Despite Tiger Woods’s stunning fall from grace in 2009, it was probable the world’s most famous athlete eventually would rehabilitate his tarnished image. History has proven that the willingness of sports fans to forgive should never be underestimated — providing disgraced superstars seem contrite and regain their swagger.
Entering this week’s Masters, it would appear Woods is closer than ever to getting himself right on the golf course. In winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 25 — his first PGA Tour victory in more than 21 / 2 years — Woods again played with the above-it-all confidence he had while accumulating 14 major championships and 71 tour wins during his first 14 seasons as a pro.
Comeback makes for compelling theater. The steeper the climb, the greater the drama. Few iconic athletes have fallen as far and fast as Woods, both personally and professionally. One of the world’s most-admired men was revealed as a serial adulterer. And from contending almost every time he stepped on a golf course, Woods suddenly couldn’t hole a putt or find the fairway. It’s now clear he has applied himself at the driving range and on the putting greens in an effort to rediscover his once phenomenal game. But has Woods worked as hard (at all?) on improving as a person?
Away from golf, Woods was a fraud. He duped the public for more than a decade, projecting the pristine, Nike-assembled image of a rock-solid family man. In fact, he reportedly engaged in numerous extramarital affairs for years. From most accounts, Woods was generally rude and condescending — not a good guy.
When he addressed his extramarital affairs in 2010, Woods acknowledged he felt “entitled” to do as he pleased because, well, he’s Tiger Woods. The magic Woods made with his irons empowered him.
We’ve been intrigued by Woods, who as 2-year-old putted against Bob Hope on television, for most of his life. He was a child prodigy who became the planet’s leading man. Fans were drawn to watch Woods as much for his signature smile and regal presence as those perfect drives that landed on parts of the fairway no other players had reached before. No one else in golf had his flair.
When other tour members had pot bellies and side handles, Woods was a V-shaped workout trendsetter. His competitors improved their conditioning, in part, because Woods was pulling farther away from the pack.
With Woods struggling the past two years, the tour lacked its biggest drawing card. If Woods has rediscovered his groove, elated PGA Tour officials will welcome back the large Tiger-watching crowds that used to follow him. Woods is good for business. That’s usually the story with high-profile athletes who have successfully traveled Redemption Road.
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick returned to the Pro Bowl after spending nearly two years in jail for his role in an illegal interstate dog fighting ring. He also got about $40 million guaranteed in a big new contract.
Wide receiver Plaxico Burress wound up incarcerated for 20 months because of illegal gun possession. After missing two seasons, Burress revived his career with the New York Jets last season, and one publication selected him as its NFL comeback player of the year.
It’s important to make the distinction that Woods wasn’t charged with any crimes. Although some would argue that Woods’s ex-wife and children were victims of his infidelity, Burress and Vick actually broke laws and were punished for their conduct.
On the other hand, Vick and Burress have repeatedly discussed their remorse. Vick continues to speak out on the problem of dogfighting. Burress has accepted life counsel from Tony Dungy, a widely respected former NFL head coach. With Dungy’s assistance, Burress has been a voice for reducing gun violence.
Who knows where Woods truly stands on his morally corrupt behavior?
On his return to the tour after the revelations about his personal life, Woods approached group interviews with less disdain than he had shown when it seemed certain he would obliterate Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles, golf reporters say. But his improved behavior didn’t last long. At times, Woods has been downright confrontational if he doesn’t like the tone of questioning, regardless of whether or not it’s fair.
Sure, Woods has apologized for his actions while reading from prepared statements. But he hasn’t explained what, if anything, he has learned from everything he brought on himself.
Media access to Burress and Vick, one of the biggest stars at the NFL’s glamour position, is limited. But there’s basically a moat around Woods. He reveals little about himself, which is just the way Woods and his corporate handlers like it. Everything about him is still so packaged. If he let a little more light in, maybe the world wouldn’t be left to wonder if he has made any positive changes that don’t include his swing.
We’ll watch Woods attentively during the Masters. Many will root for him to win his fifth green jacket and 15th major. We just still won’t know who he is.
For Jason Reid’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/reid.