Each day the word gets louder. Tiger Woods is to make his comeback in two weeks' time. So if the word proves true, will this be a time to rejoice, to welcome back the returning hero like the prodigal son? Or a time to scream: "You what? After all that 'I've changed... I'm so sincere... I've got such a long way to go' baloney a fortnight ago?" You decide.
What surely is unarguable is the perception Woods gave off to the world in his televised statement. He said: "I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be. I don't rule out that it will be this year." Strictly by those statements it was impossible to foresee anything other than a lengthy absence as a broken man sought to piece back a shattered life.
Does a month represent a lengthy absence? Is it possible to piece back a shattered life in the time it takes to stage four tournaments? Who knows? Woods might think so. But then again, he may since have decided to do the repair job on the move. That's his choice, his right. Just as it would be everyone else's right to look back on that 14-minute soliloquy and wonder about an individual who looked more inclined to don a strait-jacket than a green jacket. If Woods is considering entering the Arnold Palmer Invitational before its deadline on Friday week then he should also be considering the flak he would receive. And he would be wise to line up a few more apologies.
First off he should say sorry to all those who took his "mea culpa" to be genuine. If he is teeing it up in Florida then the saddest aspect to me will be the scoffing of the cynics. You know, that smug band who saw the purposeful, look-into-the-camera delivery of Woods's first "I am truly sorry", who then watched the hand going across his heart and who then assured us that this was about as real as those counterfeit clubs sold on eBay. It's all about sponsorship, about the brand, about the reconstruction of the image, not the person. You'll see, they laughed.
Well, many of us in the gullible gallery would finally see. Most of his fans, certainly his British fans, didn't feel it necessary for him to apologise. Just turn up and play again. We always admired him as a golfer. Nothing else. But no, he chose to confess, and so his motives for doing so will inevitably be analysed. By the fans who believed his contriteness more than anyone.
Tiger should also apologise to his fellow players. Regardless of the timing of his reintroduction to their ranks, his fellow pros already have ample reason to be angry. When Ernie Els came out and called Woods "selfish" for taking over the airwaves on the third day of the Accenture Match Play, he was instructed by Woods's agent, Mark Steinberg, "to get your information right before commenting". The players were then informed Woods had no choice but to address the globe that particular morning as he was rechecking into rehab the next day. By and large the players accepted that explanation. The patient would be back under lock and key awhile.
It turned out that "awhile" lasted barely a week. Woods was back at his Orlando home the following Saturday. Question: why couldn't he wait until, say, last Monday to speak? What difference would it have made? Never mind whether it deflected any attention from the Match Play, it undeniably had the potential to distract the players in Tucson. Before they went out for their Friday matches the pros were badgered for their opinions on Tiger's "performance". It was the last thing they needed.
At this point, Woods's apologists will doubtless argue that he owes the rest of the Tour nothing. In fact, they owe him. Without Woods there would be half the interest, half the money. But none of them asked for Tiger to come along. None of them lay in their boyhood bed whispering, "I'm going to grab me some of them there Tiger millions". The majority are too old even to have heard of Tiger when they set off on the long fairway to the big time. They would have done so regardless of his rise and regardless of any associated riches. Tell me, why should somebody like Els feel indebted to Woods one iota? Right now, the South African and his peers have every right to feel fury. Woods should thank them for not being as vitriolic as they are justified to be.
There is one other section of the circus Woods should thank (other than the PGA Tour, of course, who have been quite pathetic in bending over backwards for their No 1 at every conceivable opportunity). Woods should thank the media. Without the media it must be suspected he would still be engaging in his extra-marital activities and in his own words not "have this opportunity to become a better person".
Woods no doubt detests the mudrakers and the mudslingers; but if he is true to his statement, he cannot deny they were ultimately a positive force in his "rebirth". Unless, of course, he was merely sorry about being caught. Return so early and that damnable taunt will undoubtedly receive airtime.
But perhaps all this hypothesising is unfair. Maybe the rumours of an imminent return aren't correct. If so, we should extend our best wishes for a speedy recovery. Speedy, that is. Not downright miraculous. We should then also be thankful as sports fans. A Masters minus the returning Tiger would be a Masters minus ridiculous hype. It would be what it set out to be: a golf tournament. Not some excruciating one-man stake-out.
If the professional game has learned anything from a saga which somehow still threatens to become yet more unsavoury, it is surely never again to rely too heavily on one player and, more pertinently, on one myth. Webs by their very nature are fragile, and deceit spins the most fragile webs of all. Woods and his advisers might be wise to remember that in the next few weeks.
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