Allegations strike at Tiger's core

Brandel Chamblee apologized Tuesday on Twitter to Tiger Woods for insinuating he was a cheater.

"Golf is a gentleman's game and I'm not proud of this debate," said the 51-year-old Golf.com contributor and Golf Channel. "I want to apologize to Tiger for this incited discourse."

Chamblee, who won once in 15 years on the PGA Tour, went on to say "my intention was to note Tiger's rules infractions this year, but comparing that to cheating in grade school went too far."

Chamblee's apology comes after Tiger's agent, Mark Steinberg, threatened legal action against him and called the commentator's charge "deplorable," "shameful," "baseless" and the worst thing you can call a golfer.

As of this writing, Tiger hasn't issued his own statement about Chamblee's assessment of Woods' handling of the rules, but remarks from Tiger's agent to ESPN.com's Bob Harig on the matter suggest the 14-time major champion was genuinely hurt by the mere hint of him being called a cheater.

Tiger is seldom rattled. He's been in the spotlight for most of his 37 years. He was widely criticized for being a serial adulterer after it became public in late 2009. He handled that barrage from the likes of Jesper Parnevik, Tom Watson and Masters chairman Billy Payne with a measure of contrition and humility.

Through the years when the 79-time PGA Tour winner has been the focus of racially insensitive remarks, he has quietly tried to defuse any public outrage by downplaying the intentions of the alleged racist.

Woods didn't want any part of Sergio Garcia's apology this summer for the fried chicken comment because he had no use for staging a controversy around race.

Chamblee's ruminations are different. They strike at the heart of nearly everything that matters most to Tiger: golf and his place in the pantheon of the game's greats.

No one ever dared call his idol, Jack Nicklaus, a cheater. Gary Player has been rankled for years with the story that his caddie, Alfred "Rabbit" Dyer, helped him cheat by dropping a ball in the high fescue at the 17th hole in the final round of his 1974 Open Championship win at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Nine years later in the Skins game, Tom Watson accused the South African of moving a rooted leaf that was resting against his ball.

After it came out in a 2004 book that he suggested that Arnold Palmer cheated at the par-3 12th hole at Augusta National during the final round of the 1958 Masters, Ken Venturi sought to clarify the difference between breaking a rule and a cheat.

"Arnold played a second ball incorrectly," Venturi said. "This was due in part to Arnold not understanding the rule, which stipulates a player must declare playing a second ball prior to the playing of the original ball. This does not make Arnold Palmer a cheat."

Still, the word "cheat" hovers for some over that Masters win for Palmer.

The word is still linked to Vijay Singh, who was suspended from the Asian Tour for changing his scorecard during the 1985 Indonesian Open. Three majors and 34 PGA Tour wins later, the 50-year-old Fijian is still closely connected to this event that happened nearly 30 years ago.

This fate is what Tiger fears most, and what must have set Steinberg off.

The truth of Tiger's intentions or those of these Hall of Famers matters little. As Venturi shows, it's not always easy to determine the intent of a player, considering that he or she might not know the rules.

Unfortunately, what festers like a sore are those first allegations that cast a spell over the accused.

On Tuesday, Chamblee issued five conciliatory tweets. Is the matter now over? Long after Tiger has broken all the most prominent records, will it be significant in the history books that someone once boldly insinuated that perhaps the greatest player in the history of the game was a cheater?

Time will only show the long-term impact of Chamblee's comments on Tiger's legacy. What's for sure is that the world's No. 1 player and his team takes these charges of cheating very seriously, and he will not sit idly by and let the accusations gain momentum without a fight.