Golf is just a backdrop as Tiger Woods emerges for the Masters

Tiger Woods made his first appearance at Augusta National Sunday, hitting balls for a while and then playing a practice round. Woods will address the media Monday afternoon.
Washington Post staff writer
Monday, April 5, 2010

When Tiger Woods arrived at last year's Masters, he was playing in his first major championship in nearly 10 months. He described his ordeal thusly: "It's no fun. A lot of low points, a lot of low days. But you got to fight through it."

What, then, could he possibly say Monday, when he will be asked to describe a journey that has nothing to do with the injured leg that sidelined him for much of 2008, but has everything to do with his battered image, which will never be the same?

The last time Woods took questions from a group of reporters -- as he is scheduled to do at 2 p.m. at Augusta National, three days before the first round of the Masters -- was nearly five months ago, and the questions then -- at the JBWere Masters, a European tour event in Melbourne, Australia -- weren't even scarcely related to what he will face now. Then, it was about golf. Now, his game is a backdrop.

Golf, as prim and proper a sport as America has to offer, has never experienced a week like the one that lies just ahead. Thirteen years ago, Woods became a transcendent athletic figure when he became the first African American player to win the Masters. Now, he comes not as a social and athletic pioneer, but as a dime-a-dozen celebrity cheapened by a tawdry series of revelations of marital infidelity the likes of which, heretofore, have not been discussed publicly on the starched-shirt, azalea-lined grounds of Augusta National.

The expectations: Woods's return will be, if nothing else, a spectacle.

"I think it's going to be one of the biggest events in golf history," Stewart Cink, the 2009 British Open champion, told reporters earlier this month, "because the biggest player in golf history is going to come back from this absence, and everybody is going to be scrutinizing his game and what he says and where he goes and where he has dinner -- everything. It's going to be a big piece of scrutiny on Tiger Woods and the Masters."

To this point, Woods has spoken publicly twice since the events of Thanksgiving weekend -- a single-car accident outside his Windermere, Fla., home, and a subsequent trip to a local hospital -- led to the revelation of his apparently rampant infidelity. He spoke Feb. 19 in a nationally televised address from PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but did not take questions; and he granted a pair of five-minute interviews with broadcasters ESPN and the Golf Channel on March 21.

Monday, then, brings Woods's first full-on news conference, one that will be closely monitored and controlled -- and one at which he may or may not offer new answers. Though Woods traditionally holds his pre-tournament news conferences on the Tuesday prior to the opening of the event, the Monday time slot may shield him from at least some unwanted attention -- at least in the sports arena -- because the NCAA tournament championship game is Monday night, and 26 of 30 major league baseball teams are involved in season openers. In addition, officials from Augusta National are limiting access to Woods's news conference; each media outlet will be allowed just one reporter in the room.

The questions -- regardless of whether Woods provides fulfilling answers -- should be plentiful. Among those that either haven't yet been asked or answered fully:

What, exactly, happened early on the morning of Nov. 27, when Woods was injured badly enough that he had to be taken to a local hospital? In his interviews with ESPN and the Golf Channel, Woods said the information about the accident was "all in the police report." The report, though, doesn't address, among other things, Woods's state of mind at the time, what medications he might have been on, how he could have hit a fire hydrant and a tree over a small stretch of pavement with which he was extraordinarily familiar, and why his wife, Elin, smashed out the back window of his 2009 Cadillac Escalade in what Woods's team has said was an effort to rescue him. Woods was driving, and therefore was not near the back window.

Woods also has not addressed his relationship with sports medicine specialist Anthony Galea, who is under criminal investigation for providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone. In December, the New York Times reported that Galea treated Woods at least four times in 2008 when Woods's team was concerned about his slow recovery from knee and leg surgery. Galea has said he has never treated professional athletes with HGH.

There are, too, inconsistencies in what Woods has said publicly about who knew about his trysts and reports that have followed. In his interview with the Golf Channel, Woods said, "No one knew what was going on." But in a Vanity Fair story out this week, one of the women with whom Woods had an affair said Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, was informed of her relationship with Woods. In that report and others, Bryon Bell, a lifelong friend of Woods who serves as president of his firm Tiger Woods Design, has been identified as a conduit for several women, setting up travel and other arrangements so the women could meet with Woods.

Woods also referred -- both in his first public statements and in the television interviews -- to undergoing 45 days of "inpatient therapy," and several reports placed him at a Hattiesburg, Miss., clinic that specializes in various addictions. Woods, though, has not stated the reason for the treatments.

After those and other questions, there remains the matter of golf. Woods is a four-time Masters champion, but he has won at Augusta National just one time in the past seven years. More important than that, Woods hasn't competed, in any forum, since that tournament in Australia, which he won less than two weeks before his life began to fall apart. When he was returning from his injuries in 2009, he played three times prior to the Masters, winning his final start, the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

"You can't get very sharp not playing," the legendary Palmer told reporters last month at that event, an event Woods has won six times. "Even just practicing won't do it. You really need to -- I think to be sharp, you have to compete. You have to be in the mood to compete. Now, you can say a couple of weeks, that would be one thing. But five months, you know?"

Five months would be one thing. But five months, with all that Woods has put himself through? The questions about how he will handle it all, and how others will respond, will only begin to be answered Monday.

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