(NNPA) - U.S. sports editors have selected Tiger Woods as Athlete of the Decade, a result that reflects 10 years of greatness on the golf course, rather than the three-week tsunami of negative headlines about a shocking sex scandal. Golf's No. 1 received 56 of the 142 votes cast by Associated Press member newspaper editors since last month, it was announced last week.
More than half of the ballots were returned after the Nov. 27 SUV accident outside his Florida home that set off sensational tales of infidelity. Just like so many of his victories, it wasn't much of a contest.
Lance Armstrong, a cancer survivor who won the Tour de France six times this decade, finished second with 33 votes.
Woods, who has announced that he is taking an "indefinite break" from professional golf, won 64 times around the world this decade. That includes 12 majors. He also hoisted a trophy on every continent on which golf is played. He lost only one time when he held the lead going into the final round. His 56 PGA Tour victories were more than anyone except four of golf's greatest players won in their careers.
Few other athletes have changed their sport quite like Woods. His influence has been so powerful that TV ratings soared whenever he played, even more when he has been in contention. Prize money has quadrupled since he joined the PGA Tour because of his broad appeal.
A shocking new image emerged quickly in the days following his middle-of-the-night accident, when he ran his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree.
Woods tumbled from the pinnacle of his sport in just about three weeks. The 10 years that preceded that fall, however, represented perhaps the greatest decade in golf history.
He won the career Grand Slam three times over. He took one U.S. Open by a record 15 shots at Pebble Beach and another on a bad leg in a playoff at Torrey Pines. He twice won the British Open at St. Andrews, the home of golf, by a combined 13 shots. Now hiding out, Woods apparently underestimated the pervasive power of the celebrity media in exposing his double life. Woods has seen his squeaky-clean image crumble with a sex scandal that has made him the butt of jokes and put his alleged mistresses on the front pages of celebrity magazines and on national television as prominent features.
And it's not likely to end any time soon, despite Woods admitting to infidelity and asking for "the time, privacy and safe haven we will need for personal healing," in an announcement last Friday.
"It is selling magazines. It is increasing traffic to Web sites," said Hollywood public relations veteran Howard Bragman. "Celebrity media is a business, and while Tiger's business is going under, the media is doing beautifully."
Bragman described Woods, who has been in hiding since the scandal broke with the bizarre SUV crash, as "a hunted man."
He said a photo of Woods, with possible facial injuries from the accident, would fetch up to $1 million.