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    Thursday, December 17, 2009

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    Links to doctor could deepen Tiger Woods' travails

    The headlines and stories about Tiger Woods are still rolling in on a daily basis, but they have taken a decidedly different turn over the past couple of days. These new dispatches have nothing to do with mistresses, tabloids and text messages. They are all about the FBI, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, a doctor and his performance-enhancing drugs.

    There is no evidence at all, not a known shred, that Woods used an illegal substance or cheated on the golf course in any way.

    We do know this from a New York Times story this week: A Canadian doctor who says he went to Woods' Windermere, Fla., home four or five times in February and March of this year to treat Woods' left knee with a legal, cutting-edge technique known as platelet-rich plasma therapy is under criminal investigation in the United States.

    MORE ON CASE: Doctor charged in CanadaRON ARTEST: Coverage of Tiger's troubles unfair

    And on Wednesday, we learned this: The doctor, Anthony Galea, was charged by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police after his Oct. 15 arrest in Toronto with selling an illegal drug known as Actovegin, and also with conspiracy to import an unapproved drug, conspiracy to export a drug and smuggling goods into Canada.

    The arrest was precipitated by an investigation that began when Galea's assistant was stopped at the Canadian-U.S. border. Human growth hormone and Actovegin were found in Galea's medical bag, which was in the car, according to the Times. HGH is a banned substance in sports under World Anti-Doping Agency guidelines, although it is not widely tested for because it requires a blood test. Since July 2008, the PGA Tour has had a drug policy in place that bans HGH but does not use a blood test. Woods was an early and outspoken advocate for drug testing on the Tour.

    The authorities also seized Galea's laptop, which the Times reported includes medical information relating to several professional athletes he treated.

    Tiger isn't talking publicly about any of this, but in an e-mail to the Associated Press, his agent, Mark Steinberg, said: "The treatment Tiger received is a widely accepted therapy and to suggest some connection with illegality is recklessly irresponsible."

    The day before, Steinberg wrote to the Times: "I would really ask that you guys don't write this? If Tiger is NOT implicated, and won't be, let's please give the kid a break."

    It was foolhardy of Steinberg to believe any news organization would not report on an association between someone like Woods and someone like Galea. Since 1988, when the Ben Johnson scandal broke at the Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, the enormously important topic of performance-enhancing drug use has been the biggest worldwide issue in sports.

    Associations between doctors and athletes, or sports medicine/nutrition gurus and athletes, have led to some of the most crucial performance-enhancing drug stories in sports, including those involving Johnson, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Marion Jones. We are better as a society for having found out about them.

    For all the conversation about Tiger's titillating tabloid lifestyle, that by itself will not sink his golf career. But were he to have cheated in sports by using performance-enhancing drugs, his golf career likely would be over. Golf isn't baseball, where A-Rod can acknowledge cheating in spring training and be feted with a ticker-tape parade by autumn. Golf is a game of honor, where the athletes call penalties on themselves. Performance-enhancing drug use by such a high-profile person probably would kill a career in that sport.

    Understandably, the PGA Tour is monitoring the situation. "From what I read in the New York Times article, there is nothing that would suggest a violation of our anti-doping policy," Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour's executive vice president of communications and international affairs, said in a phone interview Wednesday morning. "We're taking what we read at face value. If there's more, we'll go from there."

    Otherwise, he said, "We don't talk about ongoing legal investigations."

    So this side of the Tiger Woods story moves along, fascinating in its own right, but so different from the other.

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