By Tim Dahlberg/The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. — Tiger Woods saw it as a gathering of friends and, indeed, it all started with a hug of the first guy he saw wearing a green jacket.
By the time he finished, some of his new friends probably felt like giving Woods hugs themselves. After all, who in their right mind wouldn’t get choked up after hearing the sad tale of a man who will live forever with the guilt of missing his son’s first birthday?
If this was all an act, Woods should be given an Oscar instead of another green jacket. As a performance it was just as masterful as any Woods has given us on his way to four wins at Augusta National.
He talked softly. He was contrite. He even called his “friends” by their first names.
It helps, of course, that the facts never got in the way. The 207 reporters who crowded into the interview room at the Masters did their best, but Woods was as slippery as the 18th green when he wanted to be.
Besides, it’s hard to kick a guy when he’s down. Maybe not so hard when you’re an alleged mistress — one of many.
“I think he’s still a big, fat liar,” adult film star Joslyn James said.
A lot of others probably think the same thing, and it’s easy to see why. When you live a lie for as many years as Woods did, even 45 days in therapy may not be enough to change anything.
But the tone was perfect, the delivery impeccable. In just 35 minutes, Woods pulled off the kind of serious damage control he seemed incapable of doing in the previous five months.
He even tossed in a couple of little factoids just to make sure no one went away empty- handed.
No, he wasn’t going to say how he smashed his Escalade into a fire hydrant last Thanksgiving night. But he did, for the first time, confirm he got a sore neck and five stitches in his lip from the accident.
As for the other details of the accident, he said he did everything to the letter of the law. No one else’s business, and no need to address reports that he may have been under the influence of painkillers and sleeping tablets when he got behind the wheel of the 5,500-pound vehicle.
“Well, the police investigated the accident and they cited me 166 bucks and it’s a closed case,” Woods said.
Unfortunately for Woods, another 166 bucks won’t make the questions all go away. The sex scandal seems to have a half-life of its own and every time he makes an attempt to move past it, one of his mistresses pops up to remind everyone what a cad he really is.
In this case it was James, who invited the media to a watch-Tiger-with-me party at the Friars Club in Manhattan, where she countered Woods’ portrayal of himself as a devoted father by claiming he was with her just 10 days after his daughter was born. She also poked holes in his claim that he wasn’t having much fun while having to live a lie.
“He was having a good time from what he told me,” said James, who, not so coincidentally, will be performing at the Pink Pony strip club in Atlanta during the Masters.
Another woman in Woods’ life may not be totally convinced of his intentions to lead a better and more spiritual life, either. Woods declined to say what his relationship is right now with his wife, Elin, but he did say she wasn’t going to be with him in Augusta this week.
Ultimately, of course, people are going to believe what they want to believe, and the lack of candor by Woods in discussing the scandal probably doesn’t matter in the long run. A certain segment of the population will always hold him in contempt, but when it comes to superstars most people tend to be forgiving and have short memories.
They’re not going to care months from now that Woods hides behind a police report, or that he hasn’t fully disclosed his relationship with a Canadian doctor who faces charges involving human growth hormone. They’re going to believe him when he says he now knows that family means everything, and that what he really wants to do is help others like him.
Woods likely already won some people back with his first real answers to real questions. He’ll win some more if he follows through on his pledge to be more respectful of the game, something that was on display in Monday’s practice round when he smiled often and signed autographs.
“To be out there in front of the people where I have done some things that are just horrible, and you know, for the fans to really want to see me play golf again, I mean, that felt great,” Woods said. “That really did.”
The newly introspective Woods, though, will have to find a way to fit his new persona into his old game. Giving up fist bumps and cursing could come at a price, he acknowledged, because they have sometimes helped him win even when all seemed lost.
Still, a flash of the old bravado remains as he returns to a game that has missed him terribly.
“Nothing’s changed. I’m going to go out there and try to win this thing,” Woods said.
If that happens, it would be one of the greatest sports stories ever. It would also speed up the public rehabilitation that began in earnest Monday on the same course where his career took off when he became the youngest to ever win a green jacket in 1997.
It seems improbable, even impossible.
So, too, though, did the sex scandal that started it all.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org