Tiger’s tale

COLBY COSH: Why didn’t Woods’s story about kindergarten assault raise any eyebrows before now?

Isn’t it pretty startling that no one made a big deal about this widely published accusation by Tiger Woods until now?

Retired teacher Maureen Decker emerged yesterday from Woods’ sordid past to say that a story he’s told about being brutalized by racist kids on his first day of kindergarten was pure bunk. “I am asking Tiger for a private and public apology to put my mind at ease and set the record straight,” said Decker, a smiling 69-year-old.

Decker ripped a recollection from Woods that appeared in a book written by his buddy, former NBA star Charles Barkley, and which he repeated in an interview with Barbara Walters. “A group of sixth graders tied me to a tree, spray-painted the word ‘n—-‘ on me, and threw rocks at me,” he said. “That was my first day of school. And the teacher really didn’t do much of anything.”

Decker said that account is “false” and thinks Woods’ late dad, Earl, cooked it up for “more publicity.”

Maybe the sporting press just didn’t get around to reading Barkley’s book? I’d hate to consider the alternative—that they were just too cowardly to raise a fuss about a bizarre, defamatory claim by a wealthy sociopath. Tiger’s story would be believable if it featured in the biography of a Jesse Owens or a Wilma Rudolph, maybe even an Earl Woods. But Tiger went to kindergarten in a perfectly nice Orange County suburb in 1981. California’s celebrity grievance-hunter, Gloria Allred, is representing Decker; she was around in ’81! Who can doubt that she would have literally parachuted into the city of Cypress if a hate crime like this had taken place?

I don’t suppose Tiger meant any harm to his teachers or the reputation of his hometown. We all have “memories” that didn’t happen, or didn’t happen to us. The story’s not even hard to believe if you edit out the spray-painting as an embellishment. Woods had already been on The Mike Douglas Show and That’s Incredible by the time he started school, and his father almost literally believed him to be, and encouraged him to think of himself as, Christ resurrected with a pitching wedge in his hands. Kid like that is gonna get rocks, and cruel words, chucked at him from time to time. What’s disturbing is the lack of self-consciousness with which Tiger told the story as an adult.

That, and, of course, the obvious absence of strong public-relations advice that has been so apparent throughout his long cold winter. A proper consigiliere should have been available to scrutinize Tiger’s Barkley manuscript, ask him “Are you a hundred percent certain this happened the way you’ve told it?”, and explain to him that although he is a legitimate (even underrated) symbol of racial progress, he probably shouldn’t try to put on the mantle of Jackie Robinson or Muhammad Ali. But Tiger has only ever had one advisor he trusted, and Earl is no longer around.