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The Observer

Temptations of the road

Some low entertainment, and some lessons, in a Tiger’s tale

By Sam Allis
Globe Columnist / December 6, 2009

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The road is a scary place to be. It has always been. The road is full of temptations that surface nowhere else in life. It provides opportunity and isolation all its own. For some, young singles largely, the road is a nonstop cavalcade of fun.

Smart people get off it as soon as they can. Dumb people stay on it too long and end up alone with memories of broken marriages and a lethal booze habit. The road is not only scary, it’s also an unnatural and unhealthy place to be. You eat bad food and spend nights in strange hotel rooms. A Four Seasons suite or Motel 6, they’re all disorienting.

For the last 30 days of one presidential campaign long ago, I took a photo of the view from the door each night as I staggered into my hotel room. I found the pictures recently. They are gruesome and funny.

It’s important to remind ourselves that most people on the road don’t cheat on their spouses. Those with a spine and a moral compass stay true to their families. No one goes on the road for the fun of it, we should remember. They do it to provide for their families.

The challenge, as my friend Jimmy puts it, is to do the right thing when no one is looking.

It’s equally important to say that on planet Earth, legions of men, and increasingly women, act out on the road. They always have and they always will. They may be fleeing divorce papers and collection agencies, or they’re simply randy.

Sooner or later, male road runners - athletes, musicians, salesmen, politicians - meet the women of the road. They assemble in a crush for stars like Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, who consider them perks of the game.

Road sex is hardly limited to male athletes. A paunchy Xerox salesman meets a schoolteacher at a Holiday Inn in Fargo. A sophisticated businesswoman with three kids, a husband, and a dog at home hooks up over drinks at the St. Regis with a sophisticated businessman. They talk about the weak dollar and end up in room 1203.

I’m thinking of l’affaire Tiger as I write this. His fall is shaping up to be one of the biggest swan dives in memory. If the tabloids are to be believed, his behavior on the road became pathological. By the end of the week, Woods had been linked with three road women. We learned yesterday that a fourth, yet another cocktail waitress, is reportedly poised to go public with her very own claim of an affair, and there’s tabloid talk of another Las Vegas blonde in the picture.

I will never understand how cheaters think they’ll never get caught. Imagine that Woods actually entrusted his unsullied reputation and unlimited wealth to a 24-year-old cocktail waitress who promised, honest, never to tell. He drank the Kool-Aid. He believed in his own deity.

You wonder how many touring pros of any sport have affairs on the road. Mucho sounds right. Do their wives know about the other women? Some must. How do they live with that knowledge? Do they pursue a life of willful denial? Do they hit the bottle? Take another man? Do they eventually blow?

Woods’s wife, Elin Nordegren, apparently did just that on Thanksgiving night after learning more dirt about her husband’s philandering. This led to her notable club work on the back windows of the SUV. Nice job. We all know the rest.

My favorite piece of twisted journalism is a video made by a Hong Kong-based company that used CGI to recreate the mayhem chez Woods. Tiger and Elin look like figures out of a video game. The best part is when Tiger is making his getaway while his wife chases him with said golf club, rather like the T rex that went after the Jeep in “Jurassic Park.’’

After extensive time spent online and listening elsewhere, I’m struck that so much comment on the Woods saga is focused on tactics: What does Nike do? Can she break the pre-nup? When does he do Oprah? More important, what club did she use?

You don’t hear much about Woods’s behavior in moral terms. The consensus, especially from men, seems to be: Guys have been misbehaving on the road since the Big Bang, so what else is new?

What matters most to many men is what Woods does on the golf course. The rest of his life is irrelevant. If he wins some majors next year, he’ll be welcomed back into the bosom of America as the prodigal son.

But could there be some boos as he walks up the 18th fairway? Doubtful, because the crowds came to watch the guy perform magic, not to protest. Tournament directors will remind us a golf course is not the place to make noise. Perhaps, but then a sullen crowd packs a wallop.

Remember the rock on the finger of Kobe Bryant’s wife after he beat a rape charge while he was on the road? It’s the size of my car. If Woods does come out of this, his largesse to his wife in the name of contrition will make Bryant’s ring look like an acorn.

Will we grimace next year as Woods dutifully kisses his wife - if she’s still around - with a tournament trophy in hand and the kids close by? Can the couple fake it? Will they maintain a cold detente around the house? How long can that last?

Not long. If Elin can wield a mean golf club, she can wield a mean battery of lawyers too. She may be bribed into staying, but with mistresses popping up like spring daffodils, I doubt it. It’s time for Woods to hit the road.

Sam Allis can be reached at allis@globe.com