First came the deafening silence; then the apologies and the spells in rehab, followed by the announcement of his return. Now comes the strangest twist of all: the enlistment of his father from beyond the grave to help restart the giant money-making machine named Eldrick 'Tiger' Woods.
If the Masters represents Tiger's effort to shift the world's attention from his philandering to his peerless golf, the 30-second TV ad by Nike now airing in the US is the attempt by his most loyal and lucrative sponsor to get the financial good times rolling again. The mildest description of the spot is "bizarre". A few have found it oddly moving – but the more common verdict is that it is mawkish, cynical, tacky and tasteless, even by the standards of a saga which has already taxed those adjectives to the extreme.
In it, a stony-faced Tiger stares into the camera, his cap and sweater adorned with that familiar swoosh symbol. He says nothing. The words are delivered with the voice of Earl Woods, the adored father who introduced his son to the game and who died in 2006. No clue is given of the original context, but the words can only refer to his sexual transgressions.
"Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive," Earl begins. "To promote discussion. I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?"
The ad is in black and white. At the end, flashbulbs appear to go off, presumably symbolising the unrelenting glare of publicity surrounding the affair, ever since Tiger had his strange collision with a fire hydrant outside his Florida mansion, on Thanksgiving night last year. Apart from the father's sonorous voice, the only sound is the soft rolling of waves hitting the shore.
Just how many new sales the advertisement will generate is anyone's guess. But if the maxim that all publicity is good publicity still holds, it's already a smash. It was featuring on Wednesday's late-night shows within hours of its release. In a spoof version presented by the comedian Jimmy Kimmel, the narration is by Tiger's mother, who scolds him for having been guided by a part of his anatomy that most certainly was not his head. As she speaks, a rolled-up paper appears from the right of the screen to bang him about the head.
But if the Nike ad struck a weird note, then it was entirely in keeping with an extraordinary 48 hours. As the world's most scrutinised athlete prepared for arguably the most eagerly awaited single round in the history of his sport, the chairman of the world's most self-regarding golf club weighed in with a gratuitous sermon of his own.
In 1996, Billy Payne won broad acclaim for winning the Olympics for Atlanta. But as chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club, he just seemed to be piling it on when he rebuked Tiger, a four-times Masters champion, for "disappointing all of us" and failing as a role model, especially for the young.
True enough – but such strictures do not sit entirely easily when they come from an institution that is a secretive bastion of mostly white privilege, and that to this day does not admit women as members.
Mr Payne may also have been venting the frustration of a sport that prides itself on its good manners and gentlemanly ethos. But the harsh reality is that Brand Tiger has been slumping. And when economic times are tough, and the TV ratings of Tiger-less tournaments plummet, golf needs its tarnished superstar at least as much as he needs it.Reuse content