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 Another Thing

Sorry is the fondest word
In his first public appearance in over three months, the most famous athlete on earth began his efforts to return from infamy. One step at a time and all that...

Without boring you with such things as magazine sections closing at different times, I ought to explain that’s the reason for this column existing rather than the material being included in the main feature on Tiger Woods elsewhere in this issue (click here). But while deadlines came into play with that, it seems there remains life in Tiger’s marriage. At least for now. Why else would he bother attending a rehab programme, 45 days done and more to come?

February 19 was the first time he had been heard (other than on voice mails sold to the press by one or more of his exes) since November 27. He told us that he intended to “save the things that are the most important to me –my marriage and my children”. Hard to believe, but that’s what he said. And he sounded like he meant it.

As for golf, that continues to take a back seat (cue obvious joke about drivers). “I do plan to return to golf one day,” he said. “I just don’t know when that day will be. I don’t rule out that it will be this year.” As for sex: “I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have to go far to find [temptation].” OK, all clear and understood. It was what we thought. But still, why the explicit texts that one day were bound to rumble him? On the other hand, have you ever heard a diminished public figure spell it out so honestly?

Tiger Woods' press conference 'apology'
Digging deep: with his extraordinary apology, Tiger took the first steps towards
fixing his brand - but what about his marriage?

At his non-press conference, he did seem contrite. Then, he had a lot to be contrite about. But not that much. It may be wholly genuine but it was certainly wholly gushing – like an Oscar winner’s thanks – and, perhaps to make it seem more sincere, it was also aimed at people in no need of it. I mean, “kids all around the world”.

Hold on. A famous sportsman has slept with several women. (There was no apology towards any of them, mind.) What a shock. This is a huge deal for his wife, Elin, and because he is such a celebrity it is a matter of interest – some of it prurient – for many other people, but the way he kept on apologising, as if determined to drive the word into exhaustion, if not oblivion, one might have thought he was a serial killer, or at least single-handedly responsible for the banking crisis.

The American TV networks treated this as if it were a presidential broadcast. At the same time, he seemed like a hostage pleading for his freedom. He looked vulnerable. He may have been in a room with friends, managers and countrymen… er, sponsors, but he was deep in unfamiliar territory. In control of the occasion maybe, but not of the outcome; in this case, how he would be perceived.

Control. That’s what Tiger likes, even if the prospect of feminine company has frequently caused him to lose it. Hence no press conference with questions he would have to answer. If this strategy was an attempt to buy more time so that when he does return the scandal will seem old hat and the media won’t be interested anymore… well, I wouldn’t rely on that. If he had said of his wife and himself in answer to any question about his infidelities: “We have a lot to discuss… what we say to each other will remain between the two of us” – the very words he used in his speech – at least he would have reasonably faced down his prospective tormentors. Right now he seems, perhaps on the orders of his doctors (medical or spin), to feel that ignoring the media is the best policy. As if.

It’s in part the fact he has so few friends there – because he thought they didn’t matter – that the media has been so unremittingly eager to ride this story as hard as it can. And yet there was Woods using the occasion to take another swipe at them for taking photos of his family. It was the most animated part of his performance. “I have always tried to maintain a private space for my wife and children. They have been kept separate from my sponsors, my commercial endorsements.” Well, if you don’t count including his son in an Amex ad.

In fact, I have some sympathy for him here. What’s he supposed to do to keep his family out of his golf? Tell Elin never to be seen with him in public? Or at least wear a burkha and hijab? However, as Chubby Chandler, head of ISM, told the Guardian: “He has had a right dig at the press again. I would have thought he would have wanted the media on his side.” Indeed. Woods and his people still haven’t learned. Hey guys, put the shovels away! The hole is enormous enough as it is.

It would be fascinating to know if his “I would like to thank my friends at Accenture” remark was inserted late in the day. The feeling had been that Woods had chosen the week of the company’s matchplay tournament for his announcement in order to stick it to them for being his first erstwhile sponsor to flee the corporate coop. Players were critical – I’d bet he hadn’t anticipated that – and Ernie Els called him“selfish”, saying: “Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday.”

Mark Steinberg, Woods’ manager, said: “There is a very good reason not to do it next week.” The reason turned out to be that Tiger was due back at the clinic after his appearance, which was during a week’s break called for by his course of therapy. But why not the previous Monday? As Nick Faldo said: “I can’t believe that a man in a white coat behind a desk tells him what to do.” Oh, so that’s what sex-clinic workers wear?

In the end, one wonders what Woods achieved, other than starting the long haul of getting Brand Tiger back on the road. (Hydrants beware!) The biggest deal, his marriage, is, as he said, “a matter between Elin and me”.

He closed with: “I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.” Way too much, as if he were indeed some sort of God. I believe he’s a great golfer. As to believing anything else about him, that’s mostly a matter for Elin.

(Read Robert Green's superb analysis of the golfing landscape three months after Tiger's car crash - "A many-headed Hydrant".)

March 2010

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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