Will Tiger Woods find redemption in birthplace of golf?
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND There's no better place than St. Andrews -- surrounded by ruined cathedrals and tumbled-down castles and monuments to burnt martyrs, the stony debris of epic pride -- to regain a sense of humility. The Old Course demands awe, and provides historical context. What's clear against its backdrop is that Tiger Woods has been a great player, but not a great champion. What's unclear is whether he's up to becoming one.
In his two previous victories at St. Andrews, Woods was all towering stature and false virtue. Now his image looks like one of those ruined spires up on the hillside. His personal scandals have done incalculable personal damage, and may have done harm to his competitive mastery, too: He has never gone this deep into a season without a victory.
This British Open is therefore an important rite of passage and turning point for him. He has a chance to make some real progress in his comeback, both professional and personal.
Woods's public re-entry wasn't going to be complete until he had faced St. Andrews -- both the hard questions from the British tabloid press, and the questions begged by the honorable Old Course itself about worthy champions. St. Andrews is Woods's favorite course in the world, and a victory would prove he has recovered his game, but more important, a graceful performance might help restore some of his lost esteem.
Tuesday was his day of reckoning with the media. As it turned out, he faced just a half a dozen mildly brisk questions about the toll the scandal has taken on his golf swing. He treated them as interrogations, with rote, toneless replies.
Was he bothered that some people's perceptions of him have changed in the wake of his sex scandal? "Hey, it's their opinion," he said. "Everyone is entitled to their opinion."
Does he feel he has more work to do to regain public goodwill? "Well, just the same thing I'm doing each and every day, just trying to become a better person."
Will he ever be able to fully rebuild his image? "I don't know."
Woods did his best to be polite and earnest, and to sound like a reformed family man.
"I don't practice as much as I used to because of the kids, nor should I," he said. "They're the most important things in my life."
None of it sounded insincere -- but none of it suggested Woods has experienced any real epiphany about his public responsibilities, either. In fact, the most tense moment came when a British reporter accused him of becoming annoyed with spectators during a practice round, and asked whether he's lived up to his promise to be kinder to his galleries.
"I have," he said shortly.