As sports go, it wasn’t close: Tiger Woods was famous for his golf long before he became infamous for his personal life.
For 10 incomparable years, no one ruled a sport like Woods.
He won 64 tournaments, including 12 major championships. He hoisted a trophy on every continent where golf is played. And those 56 titles in one decade on the PGA Tour? Consider that only four of golf’s greatest players won more in their entire careers.
Even as a shocking sex scandal changed the way people look at Woods, the records he set could not be ignored.
Woods was selected Wednesday as the Athlete of the Decade by members of The Associated Press in a vote that was more about his performance on the course than the self-described transgressions as a person.
“The only reason I wouldn’t vote for Tiger Woods is because of the events of the last three weeks,” said Mike Strain, sports editor of the Tulsa (Okla.) World. “And I didn’t think that was enough to change my vote. I thought he was a transcendent sports figure.”
He received 56 of the 142 votes cast since last month by editors at U.S. newspapers that are members of the AP. More than half the ballots were returned after the Nov. 27 car accident outside his Florida home that set off sensational tales of infidelity.
Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France six times this decade, finished second with 33 votes. He was followed by Roger Federer, who has won more Grand Slam singles titles than any other man, with 25 votes.
Record-setting Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps came in fourth with 13 votes, followed by New England quarterback Tom Brady (6) and world-record sprinter Usain Bolt (4). Five other athletes received one vote apiece.
Woods, who has not been seen since the accident and has issued only statements on his website, was not made available to comment about the award.
Few other athletes changed their sport, from TV ratings to galleries to prize money.
AP members found Woods’ work on the golf course over the last 10 years without much of a blemish.
He took an early lead in the balloting, and continued to receive roughly the same percentage of votes throughout the process.
The fall was as spectacular as his rise.
Woods won the career Grand Slam three times over in the decade, the last of his 12 majors at the 2008 U.S. Open despite playing on a mangled left leg.
Woods won more than one-third of all the tournaments he played this decade, an unprecedented rate in golf. Nine of his victories were by at least eight shots. He was No. 1 in the world ranking for all but 32 weeks in the decade.
Along with his 12 majors this decade Woods was runner-up in six other majors. He won 14 times out of 27 appearances in the World Golf Championships.