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Golf: Tiger upset with Miller

By Gwen Knapp
San Francisco Examiner
Tiger Woods should be very unhappy that Johnny Miller recently compared him to Mike Tyson. Buster Douglas should be absolutely miserable about it.
Miller equated Douglas’ shocking 1990 upset of Tyson to Woods’ career-hobbling marital infidelities. Whatever his shortcomings as a boxer, Douglas did hold the heavyweight crown for eight months. He deserves better than to be equated with Woods’ libido and the assorted strippers who blabbed about him.
The only rational explanation for the analogy is that Miller watched “The Hangover” recently and couldn’t get the scenes about Tyson’s tiger out of his mind. Otherwise, the connection seems unaccountable. Or the NBC analyst thinks that a serially unfaithful spouse who periodically swears and spits on the golf course has something in common with a guy who did three years in prison for rape and chewed off part of an opponent’s ear in the ring. That confusion would suggest another kind of hangover.
To be fair, Miller also referenced Humpty Dumpty when discussing how Woods’ career has crashed over the past 15 months.
“It’s a little bit like a Mike Tyson story, to be honest with you,” Miller said on a special show presented by the Golf Channel. “Sort of invincible, scared everybody, performed quickly under pressure. Until a Buster Douglas came along … his life crumbled.”
Actually, Tyson already was divorced when he lost to Douglas, not long after wife Robin Givens had accused him of abusing her. The two sat down for an interview with Barbara Walters, and Givens described the marriage as “pure hell” while Tyson sat beside her, a blank look on his face.
Miller had a finer, professional point wrong. In the ring, Tyson was not feared in the same way that Woods unnerved his fellow golfers. Woods had every tool needed for greatness, and his focus, honed by his father, didn’t waver for the first 12 years of his career. Tyson had raw power so overwhelming that elementary footwork and strategy would have sufficed. Stylistically, he has a lot more in common with John Daly than Woods. His fatherless childhood created personal chaos, which he duplicated in the ring.
Let’s catalog a few other differences between Tyson and Woods before we return to the obvious one. Tyson once hit an opponent after the fight was stopped, knocking over the ref in the process. He said of an impending bout with Lennox Lewis: “I want your heart. I want to eat your children. Praise be to Allah.”
Woods’ most famous quote, not scripted by a sponsor, would be some variation on “It is what it is.” He hasn’t invoked a deity while threatening violence, although during his public apology, he did model a Buddhist bracelet alongside a Tag Heuer luxury watch.
Tyson was a juvenile delinquent, reportedly arrested more than 35 times by the time he was 13. He embraced the nickname “Baddest man on the planet” and did not bother applying to Stanford. Woods worked hard to be Ward Cleaver Meets Jack Nicklaus, while shutting himself off and cruising in a yacht named “Privacy.”
Perhaps to Miller, these are all fine points and he can see only the parallels between two unbeatable athletes who suddenly cracked. The rape conviction should have warned him off the whole idea. Tyson has done his time, made subsequent errors, and now in his mid-40s has come to occupy a special place in our oddball culture. Witness the fact that at least one member of the cast that played off Tyson to great comic effect in “The Hangover” reportedly nixed the idea of working with the disgraced Mel Gibson in a sequel.
But Tyson’s justifiable chance at redefining himself does not justify putting him in the same class as a man who, despite making a mess of his life, has not been charged with a crime, much less convicted of sexual assault. Miller would have been better off borrowing a famously nonsensical line from Tyson’s cinematic hit: “Tigers love pepper; they hate cinnamon.”
(E-mail Gwen Knapp at gknapp@sfchronicle.com.)

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