Donald Trump has awarded Tiger Woods the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honour.
Woods, who fought back to a dramatic Masters win last month following years plagued by injury, is by far the youngest golfer to receive the distinction.
But the president’s decision to honour a 43-year-old sportsman who is his long-time friend and business partner has raised questions about whether the award was merited.
Woods who is the fourth golfer to receive the medal, following Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Charlie Sifford.
Woods dominated golf for more than a decade, but went 11 years without a major until winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club in April in a comeback which captivated the sporting world.
Last month, following Woods’ Masters win in Georgia, he tweeted that he would honour the golfer in recognition of his ”incredible Success & Comeback in Sports (Golf) and, more importantly, LIFE.”
Woods ranks second in PGA Tour wins, one shy of Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82. His 15 major tournament victories are three less than Nicklaus, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the age of 65 by George W. Bush.
Mr Trump hailed Woods as a “great guy” on Monday. He added: “He introduced countless new people to the sport of golf, from every background and walk of life … Tiger Woods is a global symbol of American excellence, devotion and drive.”
The president has eagerly leapt on the Woods bandwagon and has been using his fame to attract fans to his properties for decades. Following the golfer’s first Masters win in 1997, Mr Trump got Woods to show up at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey – prompting thousands of fans to turn up.
The pair have also golfed together several times, as well as striking business deals.
Golfers at the president’s club in Doral, Florida, can stay at the Tiger Woods Villa. At a ribbon cutting ceremony in 2014, Woods lavished praise on the future presidential candidate, calling changes he made to the club “phenomenal.”
In Dubai, Woods designed an 18-hole course – due to open later this year – to be managed by The Trump Organisation.
“You have to ask whether it’s his true belief Tiger Woods deserves this award or whether he’s doing it to help his business,” said Jordan Libowitz, communications director at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a left-leaning public policy group.
Democratic strategist Don Calloway told The Hill Woods receiving the medal was “Trump giving an award to his buddy”.
“I think there’s a whole lot of people who are in the line for the Presidential Medal of Freedom before brother Eldrick,” he added, using the golfer’s birth name.
Woods has been criticised in the past for his association with Mr Trump. While other sportsmen have taken a public stand against the president’s policies such as the Muslim travel ban, Woods has insisted he is not political.
Rick Reilly, who wrote a book about Trump’s golfing entitled Commander in Cheat, said Woods had brought golf to people of colour around the world, while the president has promoted it as a sport for the rich. Woods should have declined the medal, he suggested.
“I can see how it would be hard to resist, but I still think it’s hypocritical to do it,” Mr Reilly said.
But Christopher Devine, an associate professor of political science at the University of Dayton, said Woods deserved the honour, regardless of whether Mr Trump was motivated by his business interests.
“If President Obama or Hillary Clinton had given the award to Tiger, no one would have batted an eye,” said the academic, who has studied the history of the medal.
Mr Devine also noted previous presidents have presented the award to supporters and political donors, including Barack Obama. Mr Trump’s predecessor in the White House gave the Medal of Freedom to Bruce Springsteen, who performed in concerts to support his election efforts. He also awarded it to his vice-president, Joe Biden.