It was an up and down year for Tiger Woods. The greatest golfer of this generation again struck out in the majors for the fourth straight year since crashing his car into a fire hydrant in 2009. On the plus side, he still won 5 PGA Tour events and was named Player of the Year once again. Also as a positive, Lindsey Vonn. Still though, Woods' 2013 calendar year was clouded by a number of rules controversies including his high profile drop drama at The Masters. Woods incurred another penalty at the BMW in September when he tried to remove a loose impediment causing his ball to move. Many who cover the game found the incident (and Woods disputing the penalty) more controversial than the fateful Masters drop and the pattern of rules issues surrounding Woods disconcerting.
Woods' most vocal critic is Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee. The former pro won just 1 PGA Tour event in his career but has become one of the most notable analysts in the sport because of his outspoken, blunt opinions that cut against the grain of many golf analysts on television. Chamblee has become noteworthy for not being afraid to go where others dare to tread – criticizing Tiger Woods publicly. In writing his season review for Golf.com, Chamblee gave Woods an F for the season and said he was "cavalier with the rules"…
"When I was in the fourth grade, I cheated on a math test and when I got the paper back it had "100" written at the top and just below the grade, was this quote, "Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!" It was an oft-quoted line from the epic poem "Marmion" by Sir Walter Scott, and my teacher's message was clear. Written once more beneath that quote was my grade of "100", but this time with a line drawn through it and beneath that an F. I never did ask my teacher how she knew I cheated and I certainly didn't protest the grade. I knew I had done the wrong thing and my teacher the right, but I never forgot the way I felt when I read that quote.
I remember when we only talked about Tiger's golf. I miss those days. He won five times and contended in majors and won the Vardon Trophy and … how shall we say this … was a little cavalier with the rules.*
Chamblee's comments sounded the alarm bells in Woods' camp with representative Mark Steinberg responding with a full offensive against Chamblee, calling what he wrote "the most deplorable thing I have seen." That seems to be a little harsh, don't you think? A couple of critical paragraphs on a golf website as the most deplorable thing he's seen? Did Steinberg ever see the Cavemen TV show? Or even Battlefield Earth?
What's more, in an interview at ESPN.com, Steinberg even floated the possibility of he and the Woods camp coming forward with a lawsuit against Chamblee for linking Woods with cheating:
"There's nothing you can call a golfer worse than a cheater," Steinberg said. "This is the most deplorable thing I have seen. I'm not one for hyperbole, but this is absolutely disgusting. Calling him a cheater? I'll be shocked, stunned if something is not done about this. Something has to be done.
"There are certainly things that just don't go without response. It's atrocious. I'm not sure if there isn't legal action to be taken. I have to give some thought to legal action."
Threatening a lawsuit over critical comments on the internet? That seems like a bit of a hollow gesture, especially considering Chamblee's original comments. This doesn't even seem to register on the same scale as Jack Clark floating steroid allegations about Albert Pujols. Regardless, Tiger Woods and his associates have never taken too kindly to criticism of any kind. If you're still following along, Chamblee then offered a response to the Steinberg response to Golf.com standing by his comments:
"I thought it incomprehensible that anyone with the slightest understanding of libel laws wouldn't know the definition of and the difference between libel and opinion," Chamblee said.
"I'm paid to have and give an opinion, and I work hard to form those opinions based upon facts, not agenda," he said. "I don't always get it right but I'm always trying to get it right. And I know the people I work for know that."
Did Chamblee go a bit too far in insinuating Woods is a cheater? Maybe, but he's paid to express an opinion. Johnny Miller basically had the same viewpoint in saying Woods' behavior at the BMW would raise eyebrows in the locker room. Is he going to get sued as well? Not likely.
Chamblee may be walking the tightrope in being too harsh on Woods to make a name for himself. His criticism is certainly making him stand out and it's worth watching just how fair he can be when it comes to Woods in the future. (For what it's worth, Chamblee also gave Vijay Singh an F and called him petty and irrelevant, but you don't see his people tossing out words like "legal" and "action.") However, it's refreshing to see someone, anyone, willing to brazenly criticize Woods when the vast majority of the golf establishment is petrified to do so, partially out of fear for being put on the Tiger Woods Enemies List and partially because of his importance to ratings.
Will Woods blackball Chamblee and the Golf Channel and deny access? Probably. But Golf Channel needs to stand by their analyst and his opinion and not corrupt their coverage based on legal threats from a player, however famous and influential he may be.
The bottom line is that Woods should be treated and covered like any other PGA Tour player or professional athlete – praised for what he does right, and criticized for what he does wrong. Should that be so difficult to accept?
UPDATE: Chamblee took to Twitter to apologize. He says nobody told him to. Hmm…
Golf is a gentleman's game and I'm not proud of this debate. I want to apologize to Tiger for this incited discourse.
— brandel chamblee (@chambleebrandel) October 23, 2013
And no – I was not asked to apologize
— brandel chamblee (@chambleebrandel) October 23, 2013