Tiger Woods sounded scripted, but he also sounded sincere. Let’s give him a break on that count. He is the greatest golfer of all time. Nobody said he was the greatest orator of all time.
Woods had to be way more comfortable slipping on the champion’s green jacket at the Masters than he was staring into the camera and admitting he was a champion serial cheater. It had to hurt a lot less to win the U.S. Open with a torn ACL and a double-stress fracture than to stand up and admit he had torn up his family with the stress caused by being a horrible husband.
C’mon. The guy cheated with porn stars, party girls and the double-digit romps reportedly have run as high as the number of major championships he has won. Tiger was a dirt bag. And now he has to clean up one of the biggest personal messes in sports history. His 13-minute televised speech Friday before family and friends at TPC Sawgrass, home of the PGA Tour, was a step in the right direction. I believe him. And entering the day, my gut was not to believe him.
“I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior,” Woods said. “I have a lot to atone for.”
Yet the truest words out of Woods’ mouth came when he pointed to his wife, Elin’s, own view. The real apology to her will not come in the form of words. It will come in the form of his behavior over time. Elin was not there Friday and their path remains unclear, but in the end the most profound part of this sordid tale is between the two of them.
“I was unfaithful,” Woods said. “I had affairs. I cheated. I am the only person to blame.”
Woods said he has been undergoing in-patient therapy for 45 days. He will return this weekend for more treatment. He is not sure when he’ll return to golf.
I’ll admit this whole sex-addiction issue as science leaves me lukewarm. Woods carried on relationships for months, even years. There are control issues at work here, ego issues. It’s not all about getting aroused. Although he didn’t get into the specifics of his treatment, Woods admitted as much.
“I knew my actions were wrong,” Woods said. “I was convinced normal rules didn’t apply. I thought I could get by with whatever I wanted to.
“I felt I was entitled. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules.”
He read from prepared text. The only time he really went freestyle was when he lashed at the media for suggesting Elin might have hit him after finding out he cheated, for asserting he might have used performance-enhancing drugs, for tailing his wife and kids.
Woods set the ground rules for this day. He limited the number of media to a tiny number. No questions allowed. As a news conference, it was a sham. Playing the papa bear, protecting the family, is good. Emerging from a three-month disappearing act and clawing back at the media was a little much. It wasn’t the time.
That doesn’t mean he didn’t man up. He did.
Woods didn’t invent adultery. But like so many things he does, he appeared to master it. Until he got caught and he got his, ah, reputation caught in the meat grinder known as tabloid journalism. He found himself at the confluence of sex, sports and celebrity. Dude’s tabloid gold. Even the established networks broke into their regularly scheduled programming Friday as if it were a moon landing.
Woods has had a lot of time to reassess his life. He has looked at himself as he never wanted to do before. He has to know there are too many young guys who’ll read this story and celebrate his dalliances. He has to know there are too many Tiger sniffers who’ll read this and scream at the media, “None of your business!”
Yet he must also know the larger truth, the harder truth is it’s time for Tiger The Cold, Tiger The Robot, Tiger The Control Freak to mature into the second half of his life.
Woods talked about a need to start living a life of integrity and not to repeat the mistakes he made. He talked about character and decency meaning more than birdies and titles. He issued a special apology to parents who used him as a role model. He talked about a return to his spiritual side, his Buddhist roots, and learning to regain his balance in life. He said when he does return to golf he needs his behavior to be more respectful of the game.
“I have a long way to go,” Woods said. “I only ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.” There will be many folks who will choose to find Tiger disingenuous. They’ll say what happened Friday was phony, an attempt only to save sponsorships and manufacture a new image. I believe his intentions to do right. I believe this is a good first step.
If the next steps lead to him returning to golf with spite, however, he may succeed in refueling his competitive fire. He’ll also demonstrate he learned nothing about life. Joe Posnanski hit on this in a recent piece in Sports Illustrated. Tom Watson called on Woods to quit with the on-course cursing, club-swinging and menacing of photographers, to show respect for the sport.
Posnanski offered this not an antiquated view, but as an optimistic view. Tiger has a chance to remake himself in a fuller way. If he is willing to relinquish some of the absolute control that led him to a secret, sullen life, maybe he’ll find himself more embraced and less feared by those around him. Maybe demonstrating the better angels of his nature, a smile, a handshake, an autograph, will help him find a greater trust beyond that tight ring of family and sycophants.
Maybe he wouldn’t be celebrated as invincible, but let’s face it, invincibility wasn’t working so good for Tiger. He only needs to be a man, not a god.