Call it the loogie heard 'round the world if you'd like, but Tiger Woods' spitting incident offers more than the fact he's missing some proper manners and common decency. It points out his fall from grace has taken him off the pedestal that once shielded him from all manner of criticism. From fellow players to television commentators, having a go at His Tigerness is now fair game.
For those who aren't European Tour junkies, and those who spend more time rooting on Bill Murray while thinking of funny Caddyshack clichés, the news may be passed you by at first. But in true Tiger fashion, a ripple in the sea can turn into a tsunami without much effort.
On Sunday of the Dubai Desert Classic, Woods, during a closing 75 - how long until his Sunday flops become his trademark rather than his brilliant closing prowess? - bent down to mark his ball after a so-so lag putt. Rather nonchalantly, he turned his head to the side, as if he was practicing for a hernia exam, and hocked up a nice wad of spit. It wasn't in disgust or disdain, it was just a guy expectorating. If it were in a baseball dugout, where chewing tobacco remains a way of life, we'd think nothing of it.
But the global furor kicked off with a bluntly honest rip from the European Tour commentator Ewen Murray, who was disgusted. "Somebody now has to come behind him and maybe putt over his spit," Murray said, before fully plunging the dagger. "It does not get much lower than that."
Within a day or two, it had become an international incident, inflamed by the Euro Tour's decision to fine Woods for violating their code of conduct, which reads like something you'd expect to govern a golfer's behavior. A member "voluntarily submits himself to standards of behavior and ethical conduct beyond those required of ordinary golfers and members of the public."
Using that as a guide, what was Tiger Woods even doing in the field of a European Tour event? His shenanigans over the past few years would warrant a lifetime ban based on that code of conduct. Let's think about it. Spitting on a green equals a fine. Destroying a marriage with stories of rampant infidelity, indiscretion and an appetite for Perkin's rises to a new stratosphere of punishment.
But all this hubbub comes down to how vulnerable Tiger Woods is as 2011 heats up. Already this year a PGA Tour rookie made national headlines by questioning Woods' desire as he coasted to a meaningless final round at Torrey Pines. That brought Steven Ames to mind, but does anyone think Woods has the ability to beat anyone on Tour the way he dismantled Ames? Woods has been famously cool to any member of the playing community who dare cross him, but moreso to the media should they ever dare speak ill of him.
Now you have a lead broadcaster saying Woods couldn't sink any lower? European writers piled on, with one leading British columnist, Lawrence Donegan of the Guardian writing, "He might want to ask himself how much it serves the cause of his post-scandal rehabilitation to be broadcast around the world spitting on the green."
As is the case with most apologies these days, Tiger's came via Twitter: "The Euro Tour is right - it was inconsiderate to spit like that and I know better. Just wasn't thinking and want to say I'm sorry."
This isn't about spitting where another man is bound to roll his ball. It's a cumulative effect. The public ignored Woods' personal flaws - the club throwing, the cussing, the way he blew off fans as if they didn't exist - so long as he was winning. His personality gave him an edge, was the argument, while the trophy case filled up. Now, it's starting to sink in that maybe he's just a miserable person.
What Donegan said is on point. No longer is Tiger Woods the messiah, the untouchable one. For so many years his talent on the golf course, his presence off of it, and his ability to control the message unlike any celebrity on Earth kept the detractors at bay, or simply gave them no ammo. In the wake of his scandal, much as his aura on the course has vanished - leaders are no longer quaking in their boots when Tiger's lurking - and his impenetrable personal force field has been compromised.
There will be no shortage of slings and arrows coming his way. And no longer can he expect to dodge them simple by scaring off the attack.
Ron Varrial is Metro's Managing Editor and writes a regular golf column at The Sand Trap.