Welcoming Tiger Back At Augusta

Ryan Chapman@made4golfCorrespondent IMarch 22, 2010

Four months after the world wondered why Tiger Woods plowed his Escalade into a fire hydrant, the world's most recognizable athlete emerged a changed man in an interview at his home in Isleworth, FL.

Sure, Tiger issued a widely-televised apology from TPC Sawgrass a month earlier, but this time there was no rehearsal.  No cue cards, no written statement from which he could read robotically, only two men, a camera and some tough questions.

Sunday, Tom Rinaldi of ESPN was granted the first interview with Woods since his accident in November and the media and tabloid circus which ensued.  Back then, the world watched as one of the most admired and dominant athletes of our generation was thrust out of his carefully guarded private life into the scrutiny of the public eye.

We speculated, surmised, judged, joked, discussed, demonized and finally condemned a man none of us knew personally.  His infidelities and indiscretions were appalling and inconceivable and for most, his fate was sealed. 

Tiger would most assuredly be divorced, losing his wife, his family and millions of dollars. He would also lose our collective respect for his life in the public spectrum.  The image he had built, all the charity work, everything, gone because of his consistent pursuit of pleasure outside the realm of traditional American values.

Now, Tiger is coming back for one of America's most prestigious sporting events in an attempt to resume his career on a course where he has been extremely successful.  In his interview with Woods, Rinaldi asked whether he was nervous about how he would be received at Augusta National, and what he expected from the crowds.  Tiger admitted he was unsure what to expect, but was apprehensive.  He then joked that hopefully there will be a few cheers for birdies made.

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Tiger answered some tough questions from Rinaldi, some of which he deflected as still private matters.  Others he addressed head-on, admitting his lowest point this off-season was facing his wife and mother about his transgressions.  He also alluded to tough moments while in treatment for 45 days for sexual addiction.  

According to Rinaldi, Tiger arrived at the interview with only one representative and was cordial, polite and genuine.  Watching the exchange, it was evident that Tiger was humbled, less confident and less direct than the Tiger we have come to know throughout his career.  

Whether Woods has truly changed we may never know, as he will continue to guard his private life and family relationships moving forward.  It will be his conduct on the course and with the media which will be the barometer for the fans and their subsequent support of him personally and professionally in the future.

Tiger has certainly taken steps to repair his image and regain the high level of approval he once enjoyed.  It will continue to be up to him to work to live up to the standard he once set, but a level of responsibility also rests with his fans.  

Americans love an underdog.  We love baseball because you are allowed three strikes before you're out.  Stories of redemption always sell highest.  Anyone who has ever accomplished something great in our nation's history has failed at one point.  If the public chose to condemn for life everyone who ever failed morally, mentally or physically, there would be no one left to achieve.

Overcoming odds is the American way, and we hold those who return from the darkest places in high esteem. 

Why should it be any different for Tiger Woods?  His marriage, his career and his life have been dragged through the thickest mud there is, and he has come out the other side presumably a changed man.

It's up to us to accept him back, to celebrate his achievements in golf, and to learn from his mistakes.  No one is infallible, everyone is vulnerable and therefore deserves a second chance.  We can give him that chance.  

As Tiger prepares for his return at the Masters, we should prepare to watch him do what he does better than anyone in the world: smacking the daylights out of a golf ball.  We should cheer for his drives, admire his iron play and shake our heads at his incredible putts.  Sports are entertainment, and no one entertains on the golf course quite like Tiger.  

It's time to forgive, forget and move on so that one day you can tell your kids about the world's most recognizable athlete who overcame personal and public disaster to cement his place as the greatest golfer in history.

Tiger's story has been one of triumph and tragedy and still has chapters to write.  I will keep reading, hoping that it ends in "happily ever after."