Nick Westby: As Armstrong plays blame game Woods sets lesson for fallen idols

Lance Armstrong.
Lance Armstrong.
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Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods – the fallen idol and the falling idol of world sport.

They are names that have transcended their respective sports, front-page news as well as back-page headline makers, and still they continue to dominate the agenda in both their sports.

Tiger Woods will be hoping his game takes a turn for the better in this week's US Open (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).

Tiger Woods will be hoping his game takes a turn for the better in this week's US Open (Picture: Chris Carlson/AP).

Cycling strives to put behind it the dirty era dominated by Armstrong’s belated doping admittance and bullying culture, and despite the constant policing by the sport’s governing body and a commendable desire to eradicate the stain, it has never quite emerged fully from the shadow.

The news that Armstrong will be back in France next month for the annual three-week odyssey that elevates cycling into the sporting mainstream has been met with indifference throughout the sport.

Armstrong is to cycle alongside former Crystal Palace midfielder Geoff Thomas for charity in the annual ‘One Day Ahead’ ride.

Armstrong said last week he “has suffered enough”.

“I’m that guy everybody wants to pretend never lived,” he said.

“But it happened, everything happened. We know what happened. Now it’s swung so far the other way... who’s that character in Harry Potter they can’t talk about? Voldemort? It’s like that on every level.

“If you watch the Tour on American TV, if you read about it, it’s as if you can’t mention him.”

Some will never forgive and never forget, and rightly so.

For many in cycling, he is more than a Harry Potter villain.

If Armstrong is the elephant in the room in professional cycling, then Woods is the fairground attraction of which golf fans simply cannot get enough.

Right now, the sport’s most bankable star is turning heads for all the wrong reasons in the one area at which, for so many years, he was the only show in town.

Woods won 14 major championships and 80-plus PGA Tour titles in a 12-year span in which he was largely untouchable on a golf course.

This week, he tees off at the US Open having not won a major since his ‘superman’ feat of winning his national title for a third time seven years ago at Torrey Pines, a tournament he played with a fractured leg.

Since then, his career has unravelled through a very public laying bare of his private life, a number of injuries and enforced lay-offs, and a whole host of swing changes that have never quite captured the ferocity and control he managed in his pomp.

At the Memorial Tournament in Ohio last weekend, under the gaze of Jack Nicklaus – the man whose tally of 18 majors now seems to be permanently out of Woods’s reach – Tiger reached a nadir on the golf course.

Fluffing chips, finding water and losing his nerve on the greens, Woods shot his worst round as a professional – an 85 – and finished six shots behind the next-to-last player to make the cut.

Still, he fronted up and obliged at his media commitments in the immediate aftermath, saying it was his latest swing changes that were the root cause of his latest problems.

As ever with Woods, a myriad of observers have had their say, from his good friend Notah Begay III suggesting it is a lack of motivation, to Sir Nick Faldo believing that for the last three years Woods has suffered with a “fear factor” when stood over shots.

Others have leapt to his defence, most notably former GB & Ireland Ryder Cup captain Colin Montgomerie, who believes Woods is right to take the course of action he is planning – to play through the problems and find a solution on the course.

Starting on Thursday at Chambers Bay, Woods will play four times in eight weeks.

Granted, three of those events are the summer’s major championships – the Open to follow at St Andrews next month followed by August’s PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.

But by electing to play through the pain in the goldfish bowl of the majors, Woods has shown he is not afraid to confront the demons head on.

And for that, a man who has often polarised opinion deserves enormous credit.

Woods could easily have hidden from view, taken another summer off to work hard at his game.

He could even have gone as far as to retire.

He is 39 years old, has won all there is to win in the game and transformed the face of the sport for ever.

He forced manufacturers to increase the rate of development to keep up with the power he first brought, and with the colour of his skin and his background, he introduced golf to a new market.

Woods made golf cool.

He owes golf nothing, nor does the game owe him anything in return.

And yet there he is, on the range at every tournament he enters, and no doubt practising from sun-up to sun-down, trying to rediscover both the form that took him so far and the reason why he fell in love with the game when just a child.

Woods could easily say ‘that’s it’ and head off into the sunset with his vast fortune and lifelong fame.

He could easily point the finger at others, divert the attention and shun the responsibility for his actions as some would argue has Armstrong.

But no, Woods confronts it head on.

He has dropped to 181st in the world – his lowest ranking – and at 50-1 to win this week’s 
US Open, has never been at longer odds to win one of the game’s defining tournaments in his entire professional career.

Yet he still chases the dream and refuses to hide. He still works as hard as anyone.

Still he fronts up at press conferences to answer questions he must have answered a thousand times before.

Woods may come across in interviews as guarded, often charmless, and about as fun to be with as a toddler with a dodgy tummy, but ask yourself, how tolerant would you be having lived your life in the public eye for two decades?

That constant buzz around Woods does not go away because he remains box office. For all that Rory McIlroy is the new face of world golf, along with the likes of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, every shot of theirs that is aired on television this week will be matched by coverage of Woods.

What you will see is a man toiling hard to rediscover the magic. For those who think Woods will merely hang up the clubs and say enough is enough, think again.

The pain of humiliation that he suffered last week will all be stored up and used as motivation to once again rise to the top, something a man of his will and tenacity will no doubt achieve.

Where the fallen Armstrong looks elsewhere to aportion the blame, the falling Woods is not afraid to take it upon himself to stick his arms out and arrest the descent.