Tiger Woods is officially back, but is he any different?
He’s set to compete in a PGA event for the first time since his now-infamous Thanksgiving incident. Since then, the world has been obsessed with the ensuing scandal, the almost daily report of a new cocktail waitress coming forward, and more text messages than anyone would have the stomach to read.
He’s admitted and taken responsibility for his misconduct, but has anything really changed?
The hiring of Ari Fleischer speaks volumes. It should tell us that Tiger is more concerned with his public image and endorsements than he is about actually being sincere and apologetic.
One would think that after being put in such a humiliating position, complete transparency and uncompromising change would be Woods’ next course of action. Instead, we find him being as controlling and calculating as ever.
In his first public appearance back in February, Woods said all the right things. He apologized to his family, his endorsers, and the PGA. What didn’t sit well with most people, however, was the anger and defiance he showed when addressing the media and ensuing paparazzi frenzy.
Despite his apparent humility, he still displayed the uncontrolled temper that he showed on the golf course. Nothing changed.
During that appearance, he noted that he would be on an indefinite hiatus and had no idea when he would be returning. Conveniently enough, two months later, here he is at Augusta for the first major tournament of the year.
And don't think that's a coincidence.
Not only is Augusta the most exclusive course in golf in terms of gaining admittance as a spectator, but also as a member of the media. Woods has virtually no chance of ever hearing a disparaging comment or having to field a challenging question.
His faux-press conference Monday was like highly televised batting practice. Reporters lofted softball questions to him that he fielded with either a line from his February apology verbatim or a vague answer in order to move on to the next question.
Never did he have to deal with reporters pressuring him for concrete answers or details concerning the more uncomfortable aspects of the scandal.
In that press conference, Woods himself said that many of the reporters in the room were his friends. Would anyone really expect his "friends" to grill him on details, or force him back on course when he tried to avoid the question?
Of course not.
And most of the sports media treated the scandal this way. Initially, with shock and disgust, but eventually swooning back to him, painting him as the sympathetic character and hoping to remain in his good graces so as to be invited to more of these exclusive press conferences.
The public’s view seemed to mirror the media’s treatment of Woods. Initially, people were stunned and appalled. No one could believe Woods was capable of this, and he became everyone’s favorite punch line.
In a recent poll on ESPN, however, 63 percent of those polled were eager to follow Tiger’s first round, and over 50 percent hope he wins the Masters, compared to the just over 30 percent that hope he finishes in the top ten and 20-odd percent that hope he doesn’t make the cut.
His return to Augusta falls perfectly into his old way of thinking. As he stated himself, the only things that are of importance to him are major championships. Did anyone really think he was going to miss an opportunity to win another one?
If he was truly sincere about changing, giving up something that holds significant value to him would be a great show of good faith. Too many times, the golf world has seen a seemingly dominant player win major after major, then inexplicably fall off the radar.
Skipping a major tournament in order to focus on the state of your marriage and family would prove Tiger is serious about change.
Instead, he chose to play another tournament, and Elin’s absence tells you what the family thinks of this strategy.
Better yet, Tiger could show the public how much he’s changed by going to a smaller, less policed event. He should face the media in all its fervor and answer the questions he really doesn’t want to. Such transparency and a giving of control would be a stark contrast to his previous demeanor.
Alas, that was not the course he chose. As a result, his explanations and apologies sound as if they came straight from Ari Fleischer’s desktop.
What worries me the most is how Tiger will be received both as he tees off and at the end of the Masters.
When Tiger tees off, ending his “indefinite hiatus”, I hope he’s not celebrated as a hero by the throngs of golf fans. Yes, he’s the world’s best golfer, and for the vast majority, golf isn’t worth watching if Woods isn’t present.
But let’s be honest here. He’s not coming back from illness. He’s not coming back from injury. He’s coming back from cheating on his wife. Not once or twice, mind you. Fifteen times, and those are only the ones we know about.
Should he somehow win the Masters, and that is certainly feasible, let’s not confuse victory and virtue, as has happened so many times before.
Michael Vick’s ability to stay on a football field has all but erased any rumblings of dog fighting rings.
Donte Stallworth’s ability to run routes and catch a ball enticed Baltimore so much they've already signed him, overshadowing his DUI and second degree manslaughter conviction.
Woods’ ability to hit a golf ball should not magically erase his scandalous past.
Mind you, I’m not one to hope that stays in the forefront for the rest of his career. It just feels as though things have been rushed in order for him to enter the Masters.
There is a certain possibility that I’ve read this whole scenario wrong. Maybe things are better than anticipated at home, and I’ve just taken a cynical approach to Woods’ actions of late. That November accident may have been the best thing for him, and not just the end result of his getting caught.
Regardless of how he plays at Augusta, I hope Tiger can prove me and my fellow cynics wrong.