Sports

Paradise lost: Illegal drugs and Tiger Woods?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Anything's possible when it comes to Tiger Woods.

There was a time not so long ago when that suggestion, which became an advertising campaign catch-phrase, was a compliment to Woods' prowess as a golfer. Now, it's an insult meaning it's easy to believe the worst about him.

In the minds of many, Woods, in the scandalous wake of his admission of marital infidelity, has lost the benefit of their doubt. There's no such thing as the unthinkable.

That's not fair, but it's real.

The latest story is a report by The New York Times linking Woods to a Dr. Anthony Galea, who says he uses human growth hormone himself and, according to The Times, is the subject of an FBI investigation into whether he has distributed performance-enhancing drugs to professional athletes.

Galea claims Woods was referred to him by the player's agents at IMG who were concerned about how slowly Woods' recovery seemed to be proceeding after June 2008 knee surgery. According to Galea, he treated Woods at least four times by extracting blood, spinning it to increase the platelet count and injecting it into the left knee to facilitate the healing process.

That treatment, called platelet-rich plasma therapy, is not banned by the PGA Tour.

Galea also said he never gave Woods, or any other professional athlete, any human growth hormone, a substance that is banned by golf and many other sports organizations.

And the PGA Tour has explained that Woods hasn't, to the best of its knowledge, broken any rules.

Now, though, doubters are connecting their own dots.

Woods, 33, has a rigorous workout regimen and has, during the course of a professional career that began in 1996, transformed himself into impressively muscled physical condition. But is that all there is to it? Such are the whispers.

It's a slope too slippery to measure even with a Stimpmeter, but a theory postulating Woods as a cheater in golf as well as married life — even without basis in fact — suddenly gains ugly traction for anyone willing (wanting?) to believe anything's possible in the negative sense.

How else to interpret a USA Today Gallup poll dropping Woods' favorable rating from 85 percent to 33 percent while increasing his unfavorable rating from 8 percent to 57 percent from June 2005 to now?

Nor was it of particular benefit to Woods when his IMG agent, Mark Steinberg, e-mailed The Times when asked for a pre-publication comment and wrote that he "would really ask that you guys don't write this? If Tiger is NOT implicated, and won't be, let's please give the kid a break."

Whoa.

Woods is no kid, and Steinberg's request that the story not run invited the worst kind of speculation for his client in terms of an already damaged image.

Regardless of how sore his surgically repaired knee felt and no matter how deeply he craved getting back to competition, Woods should have known better than to associate with a doctor who had admitted to injecting himself with HGH a decade ago. Did anyone in the Woods camp check out the guy?

Woods can't afford even a whiff of more bad publicity, and this is a big dose of it.

Perception is a heavy hammer.

Never mind the problems with his marriage because that shouldn't have anything to do with how Woods is judged in terms of actual golf accomplishments.

But a scandal regarding performance-enhancing drugs would result in the asterisk of all asterisks on records in sport.

Steinberg e-mailed the Associated Press on Tuesday with the message that The Times' report "is flat wrong; no one at IMG has ever met or recommended Dr. Galea, nor were we worried about the progress of Tiger's recovery, as The Times falsely reported. The treatment Tiger received is a widely accepted therapy and to suggest some connection with illegality is recklessly irresponsible."

A reckless irresponsibility is at the root of many personal difficulties, including Woods' own.

Anything's possible?

Woods can only hope that's true when it comes to redemption.

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