Tiger Woods showed up in Augusta ahead of the Masters yesterday declaring himself cleansed, brand new almost. His game will be the same as before – he plans to wear the winner's "green jacket" when the competition is done – but otherwise he will be a man reborn. He will be meditating, he will be nice to his fans, there will be no lying.
That was the good news from Augusta, where the Masters proper begins on Thursday. Good news for Woods and good news for the sport, because since the end of last November, when he crashed his car outside his home and suddenly all we heard about was the women he had been fooling around with, everything has been really quite bad.
Those weeks since the scandal broke and since Woods made those first, scripted statements to the television cameras in February seem to have made a difference. Maybe it's because the trickle of tawdry titbits has dried up, or perhaps it's due to the short attention span of the public, for whom even sordid scandal gets wearisome. Or are we being manipulated into thinking everything's better, because of all the cash that's at stake?
The evidence, though, suggests that the fans really are ready for the whole mess to be over. To be sure, there were a few protesters milling about outside the Augusta club yesterday, but mostly the crowd was affectionate when he went on a practice round. And the other players at the tournament? Well, many of them came up and hugged him.
Or so Woods claimed at his press conference – a real press conference, even if most of the 150-odd reporters in the clubhouse press room were old hands he could almost have identified by name. Woods, a bit nervous-looking, let the questions come with no conditions set – 34 in about as many minutes.
And that lying thing? That is what he spoke about the most. He apologised again, of course, including to all the other players on the circuit who have themselves been unbalanced by the media storm he created.
And to his family. "I acted terribly poorly and made some terribly bad decisions, and decisions that have hurt so many people close to me," he said. That behaviour, moreover, went on for years, he revealed. "What I have done over the past years have been just terrible to my family." And no, he answered in response to one reporter, his wife, Elin Nordegren, would not be coming to the Masters.
But the pin-drop moments came when Woods spoke about lying to himself. They used to call Woods a control freak, yet here he was allowing us a peek into parts of himself that he, by his own admission, had only just begun discovering – the part that lets a normally sensible person spin lies not just to everyone around them, but to themselves as well. And to get away with it.
This, we are led to believe, is part of what Woods found out in his 45 days of rehabilitation. You might think such self-realisation might be painful and yes, he wanted us to know, it was.
Asked about the hardest moments of the whole sorry saga, he said: "Having to look at myself in a light I had never wanted... to see how far astray I had gone from my core fundamentals and my core morals... all the denial and rationalisation. To cut through that and really take a hard look at myself."
This is not celebrity-speak as we know it. Woods seemed comfortable to be candid. "I fooled myself as well, I lied to a lot of people... I rationalised and then lied to myself. When you strip all that away... the full magnitude of it, it's pretty brutal."
Woods hopes he is back. That he can move on. He said he "understood" why one of his biggest sponsors, Accenture, dropped him when the scandal broke, and expressed the hope that for those who stuck with him or may come to sponsor him in the future, he will prove again to be a "worthwhile investment".
Even when he woke up yesterday and prepared for practice, he didn't quite know how the day would go, what reception he would get. "On the first tee, I didn't know what to expect. It's one of those things where I've never been in this position." He needn't have worried. "For the fans to really want to see me play golf again, that felt good." Before the end of the press conference, he even found it in himself to say this: "It feels fun again".