For an athlete, it is never a good sign when you are on the "Most Wanted" list of TMZ.com .
That is exactly where Tiger Woods finds himself, ever since that eventful Thanksgiving night of 2009.
Add to it that Tiger, by nature, is one of those sticklers pining for privacy and secrecy of his life away from the golf course, and it totally cornered him into a really uncomfortable place. A place from where he had to set things straight with his family and friends. A place from where he had to openly talk about his unfaithful acts that had come to light. A place from where he had to fix his image so that he does not lose his sponsors, and in the process, a major source of his income. And worst of all, he had to address most of it, if not all, in public.
This article is by no means meant to condone Tiger's debauchery and disgraceful activities.
Obviously, his cheating on his wife and family was a despicable act on his part.
But setting aside emotion and empathy, and thinking about the whole situation from an objective perspective, Tiger's act is not so uncommon for the celebrity world. Famous athletes and popular showbiz celebrities have always been known to have a different moral boundary than regular people when it comes to matters like this. Even there, Tiger's case stands out for a number of reasons.
First, his stature in the eye of the public; a happily married family man.
On top of that, his whole gazillion dollar empire as an athlete and as a corporate endorsement machine was partially based on that image. Tiger, as a product, was supposed to be this athlete on the golf course accomplishing things like very few in the history of golf ever had.
With a chance to be the very best in his sport, he was supposed to be this strong-minded golfer, whose determination on a tournament Sunday helped create so many memorable moments and highlights on the green. An athlete who was carrying the popularity and ratings of an entire sport on his shoulders.
Off the green, he was supposed to be this happily married man with a beautiful wife. He was supposed to be this regular dad who loved spending time with his family. Turns out that image off the course was not what it seemed—far from it. This was the first shock to people.
Second, the "celeb" media goes berserk.
America of today loves its celebrities. They love to get into the lives of their idols. It is the "reality TV" world, where the value for celebrity exposure is just sky high.
In such a scenario, the "celeb" media hated the fact that Tiger never let anyone near his personal life. He kept it so secret for so long that at a point, the media came to the "sour grapes" conclusion that Tiger's private life was boring.
In reality, they felt like the kid that was not invited to the party. They were waiting for this opportunity where they could barge into his personal life and suck whatever they could out of it. This was their chance, and they are taking full advantage of it.
Third, and this is just speculation more than anything, there seemed to be no proper damage control by Tiger's team.
Even before the whole ordeal broke wide open, obviously Tiger had not cleaned up his closet. A lot of loose ends, apparently, allowed information to seep out from all over, linking him to more than a dozen women in a matter of days.
But the real misstep by Tiger and his people was in how they handled the PR game after the bombs dropped.
For starters, the first thing Tiger should have done was come clean right away in public and nip the whole issue in the bud.
Instead, he chose to remain in hiding for weeks.
While that was the easy path to choose then, it only let the issue grow into a monster that has yet to be slayed. His days in hiding not only cost him some of his sponsors, but also grew the legend of "Tiger, the unfaithful" in the minds of the public.
After a bunch of rumors for a good three months or so, Tiger finally decided to show his face to the camera to give his first public statement since the scandal broke open.
Finally, it felt like his PR crew were about to save the sinking ship. But that feeling was short lived with Tiger's robotic reading off a piece of paper, which looked and felt very artificial—much like an enactment, more than a heartfelt speech of regret.
The speech needed to sound more apologetic than it did.
Instead, it was an attempt to try explain the pragmatic reasons for his behavior. And lines like this did not help the cause: "I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me."
As expected, not many bought into the charade that was the Tiger press conference. But at least it was an attempt in the right direction.
The last stand to bring things back to normal was always for Tiger to get back to playing golf.
The speech gave out no clue as to his plans on that front.
He had to chose the right tournament to make his comeback. Ideally, he would like to have a controlled environment with very little heckling, limited media access, and the least opportunity for drama as possible.
Tiger's team did a good job of throwing out rumors to various events he might make his comeback in, including Arnold Palmer Invitationals and the Masters. Based on public feedback, they zeroed in on the Masters and made the announcement earlier this week.
It was, by far, the best PR move by Tiger and his team in this whole fiasco. Finally, some actual damage control.
The Masters event has so much history and tradition. Not only has Tiger won the Masters an impressive four times before, he also is very comfortable at the course at Augusta. So comfortable, that he could probably play the course blind-folded and still not leave the fairway the entire way.
Moreover, the Masters have restricted media access, limiting it to only the golf purists. TMZ.com and People Magazine will likely not have a seat in the media room at the tent in Augusta.
Also, the crowd at Augusta is typically a friendly one. It would be fair to assume that the environment throughout the tournament will be very much controlled to keep it pleasant and amicable. So much so, that the slightest whisper from hecklers in the crowd will get them kicked out.
There is no questioning how much Tiger will want to win the Masters this year.
For one, it gets him closer to Jack Nicklaus' major record of 18. Winning will also help people put the whole scandal thing in the background, and normalcy will be closer than ever in the last few months.
Tiger may not have much tournament practice when he makes his comeback, but he will be ready to play. He did it in 2008, when he won the US Open in his comeback tournament after his reconstructive knee surgery. It's hard to forget Tiger limping through the course with one leg, battling Rocco Mediate and finally beating him in a playoff.
But this time it will be a little more daunting.
There's more at stake here; more than just players on the golf course that he will have to battle.
Winning is the ultimate medicine in a situation like this. And if he pulls it off, it could one of the most improbable and memorable victories not only in Tiger's career, but in the entire history of the sport.
Can he beat them all? We'll know come the week of the Master's—April 5, 2010.
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