James Lawton: The old Tiger is dead - the new feels alive

The days when he could carouse, gamble and still play better than anyone are over
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The Independent Online

At least one thing was clear here yesterday when Tiger Woods finally went both solo and unscripted.

It was that nothing will ever be the same again, not for him, not for us. He will expect more of himself – and we will expect less because something else was apparent as Woods prepared to play his first golf tournament since his world fell in.

He spoke eloquently about his situation at times. But what he couldn't do, and didn't seek to do, was attempt to cover up something that was more evident the longer he spoke.

This was not some skilful manipulator of the mass media. This was a wounded man.

The Tiger, in words and even more eloquently in body language, conceded that the days when he believed he could do it all – carouse and gamble and conduct any number of secret lives, and still play golf perhaps better than anyone who ever lived – are over.

He has been through too much pain and self-examination, he also acknowledged, to make such a game and life plan ever work again.

For the rest of us, it is a more routine loss of an old certainty. Another sports superstar has shown that he also shares our planet – and some of our periodic despair.

Woods, at a mere 34, may well put his game together sufficiently well to ease his way past the all-time mark of 18 majors sealed by Jack Nicklaus at the age of 46, when he won his sixth US Masters here.

Tiger should be able to achieve such a target with the residue of the talent – and the confidence – left to him after five months of excruciating exposure as a serial philanderer who had plainly lost control of his life. But even he admits that it will be a different performer, one far less inclined to believe that nothing, no glory, no outrage, is beyond him.

So the world just has to accept that it has a new Tiger Woods now. You could see the difference the moment he walked into the room yesterday where he faced his first interrogation, much of it conducted by golf writers he has known since he first invaded this place as a young player of perhaps unprecedented potential.

But if wasn't exactly a reconvening of the Star Chamber, or the Spanish Inquisition, if there were glossy magazine journalists tearing out their hair beyond the gates of Augusta National because they didn't get the chance to ask what Woods said and did to a collection of porn stars, waitresses and club hostesses rep-orted to number at least a dozen, he was again obliged to accept that he had come close to destroying his life.

He had lost weight since he appeared, strained and with some puffiness of the face, in Florida in February to make his first public confession of wrongdoing. But if he looked fitter, he also carried a certain dullness, of the eyes and perhaps the spirit, and he accepted that if his behaviour had to improve on the course as well as off it, there was likely to be less exuberance of those moments of success which so regularly have him punching the air.

Perhaps he came nearest to such fervour yesterday when he talked about the feelings he will carry to the first tee when the tournament starts on Thursday. He says the short walk from the clubhouse, past the old oak tree and the terrace where cocktails are served on the sunnier afternoons, is likely to reawaken some of his pas-sion for the game he came to dominate so quickly and so profoundly.

"That first tee, I'm looking forward to it," he said. "I haven't looked forward to that tee shot in a long time, not like this.

"It feels fun again. You know that's something that has been missing. Have I been winning, have I been competing, have I been doing well [before the scandal broke in November]? Yeah, I have. I've won numerous times the last few years but I wasn't having anywhere near the amount of fun.

"Why? Because look at what I was engaged in. When you live a life where you're lying all the time, life is not fun. And that's where I was. Now that's all been stripped away and here I am."

Here he was doing something he has been obliged to do ever since he drove his car into a fire hydrant outside his Florida home while the rest of America was sleeping off Thanksgiving Day celebrations last November. Mostly he did it with a consistent understanding that he was the sole author of his story of disintegration and if he varied from this it was only briefly, insignificantly.

He complained of the harassment inflicted by the paparazzi on his wife, Elin, and their young children – and he also said how painful it was to spend his son Charlie's first birthday away in a Mississippi addiction clinic. "That hurt a lot," he said, but this is not a man who appears to be playing for the sympathy vote.

If he criticised the paparazzi, it was with nothing like the weight of censure he applied to his own behaviour.

"All I know," he said, "is I acted just terribly poorly, made incredibly bad decisions, and decisions that have hurt so many people close to me.

"I fooled myself as well. I lied to a lot of people, deceived a lot of people, kept others in the dark, rationalised – and even lied to myself. And when I stripped it all down and started realising what I had done, the full magnitude of it, well, it's pretty brutal.

"I take full responsibility for what I've done and I don't take that lightly."

How could he as the search for fresh details of his life in the sexual underworld seems to gain new energy each day? "I know I need to be a better man," he said. "And just because I've gone through treatment it doesn't mean it stops. I'm trying as hard as I possibly can to get my life better and better and if I win championships along the way, so be it."

Titles no longer defined him, he insisted, and nor would the success or failure of his pursuit of Nicklaus. "I have different goals now, and I have to have them."

The old Tiger wouldn't haven't said that... But then the old Tiger is dead, for the moment at least.