For Tiger Woods, it's a (big) rush to redemption as the Masters nears

Tiger Woods makes his return to golf at notoriously secluded Augusta National for The Masters. A horde of journalists from around the world are rushing to cover the golfer in action, and finding that catching a glimpse of Tiger is unlikely. (April 1)
By Sally Jenkins
Friday, April 2, 2010

Tiger Woods treats his audience like his bimbos. Increasingly, his public remorse over his sex scandals seems merely calculated to make it easier for him to step back on the golf course at Augusta National. As Woods prepares to play in his first major since he wrecked his car and his image, he sounds about as sincere as he did in those text messages suggesting, "You're the only one." Who does he take us for?

For two months now Woods and his public relations people have been selling us a new, contrite Woods who has achieved emotional honesty through personal crisis. But beneath the expressions of penitence, you get the unmistakable whiff of expedience. There's something a little too speedy about his rehabilitation. Woods's mantra that he did "45 days in therapy" seems less a confession than damage control, given that every week there is a new salacious outbreak. Last week it was a porn star posting brutal missives from Woods on her Web site, this week it's an exposé in Vanity Fair that depicts him as a chilly user and a candidate for sexually transmitted disease.

The golf industry seems more than willing to collude in this hasty public rehab, whether it's real or not, given that TV ratings without him can fall by as much 55 percent, and sales revenues are off by 11.6 percent. There's an industry behind Woods struggling and writhing to survive -- and willing to do anything to preserve the empire. Woods gave brief five-minute TV interviews to ESPN and the Golf Channel on March 21, apparently in a deliberate attempt to ease back into the public eye. "There's a natural progression of things he's got to do before he tees off," as Jim Furyk put it. It's not good for business if fans decide Woods's "legendary focus" is just compulsion, his "competitive fire" is just epic selfishness, and his "quest for history" is just insatiability.

But the fact is, despite the rush toward the redemption of Woods, there remains a gap between his lip service and his actual honesty. It's a handicapping issue. When it comes to telling the truth in his public statements, the guy is shooting 80.

Let's take a look at his scorecard:

Statement: "It was all me," he told the Golf Channel on March 21. "I'm the one who did it. I'm the one who acted the way I acted. No one knew what was going on when it was going on."

Truth: Except for Bryon Bell, Mark Steinberg, Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley. Text messages and published accounts from various women have now made it clear that Woods is surrounded by a circle of enablers, starting with Bell, the president of Tiger Woods Design, who facilitated his hookups on the road. An Orlando waitress named Mindy Lawton told Vanity Fair that when she and Woods were caught having unprotected sex in a parking lot by a tabloid reporter, Woods told her to contact Steinberg, his agent. Lawton says Steinberg told her, "We'll take care of it."

Statement: "I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year."

Truth: He announced his return just three weeks later. Did any one really believe Woods would choose to do his "outpatient therapy" anywhere but Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, where he has won seven of his 14 majors? "If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him in that regard," Jack Nicklaus said, rightly predicting Woods would be back on the course at Augusta.

Statement: "Many of you in the room are my friends. Many of you in this room know me."

Truth: Really? Who? Name one who isn't on your payroll. Woods's controlled news conference at PGA Tour headquarters in February looks more of a sham than ever after taking a head count of who was in the room. Other than Woods's mother, the front row was all employees. Two were secretaries, one was an accountant.

Statement: "From the Learning Center students in Southern California, to the Earl Woods Scholars in Washington, D.C., millions of kids have changed their lives."

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