'That's a private matter between me and my parents.' -- Lizzie Borden
You have to hand it to Tiger Woods. Whatever mischief he creates in his private life, in public Woods always sticks to the script. This time it's a blockbuster: scandal-scarred golfer seeks personal and professional redemption at game's biggest event.
Sunday evening in his two "exclusive" interviews with The Golf Channel and ESPN (someone at those networks should probably look up that word), we got a first look at that script. Here are the key phrases you can expect to hear when Woods returns next month at the Masters and beyond: "I got away from my core values," "Buddhism," "45 days of inpatient treatment," "entitled," "I did bad things," "life of amends," and "it's all in the police report."
Try to get Woods off the script, as both The Golf Channel's Kelly Tilghman and ESPN's Tom Rinaldi attempted, and you'll hear what will become a familiar refrain as Woods starts agreeing to more interviews: "That's a private matter between myself and Elin."
Still, it's a promising start. Except for the brown crew-neck sweater, which looked like it came from Nike's Eric and Lyle Menendez collection, Woods appeared engaged and open. The thousand-watt smile looked a little dimmer, but unlike his hostage-reading-demands demeanor from his "public statement" in February, Woods exhibited a freshness and spark on Sunday. In February I believed he might not play golf for months. Now he looks ready to tee it up tomorrow.
Let's get one thing out of the way. Woods can't talk about what happened that night when he drove his car into a tree in his neighbor's front lawn. We all know he got away with something, and he'll never talk about it. He's not going to explain why he drove into his neighbor's front yard in the middle of the night, why he stonewalled police, why his wife smashed the back windows of his car, or why the police suspected he was under the influence. Those are the kinds of answers that could get Woods in real trouble. I imagine he'll be moving to his new spread on that private island in Jupiter as soon as possible. I'd be afraid to make a right turn on red after embarrassing the police like that.
As for the rest of it, Woods is saying the right things. Yes, he's proved to be a pretty good con man in the past, but he said that he's accepting responsibility for his actions, he's getting help, he's trying to save his family, and he's looking forward to returning to golf. What else can he do for now?
"I was living a life of a lie, I really was," Woods told Rinaldi. "And I was doing a lot of things, like I said, that hurt a lot of people. And stripping away denial and rationalization you start coming to the truth of who you really are, and that can be very ugly."
That's pretty candid talk from Woods, who on Sunday avoided the prickly disdain for questions he didn't like or the false-chummy "see you, dude" shtick that sometimes infects his media appearances. When he admitted being nervous about how the fans will treat him at Augusta, it was disarming and I bought it.
As brief as those five-minute interviews were, it's all we're going to hear about Woods's infidelities, his marital problems and his suspicious middle-of-the-night one-car accident. Woods will be asked about them again and again, but unless the media is allowed to use enhanced interrogation techniques, he'll never say more than "core values," "Buddhism," "therapy" and a "life of amends."
The only omission was the lack of questions about Dr. Anthony Galea, the Canadian doctor who treated Woods's injured left knee and is now under federal investigation for distributing performance-enhancing drugs, according to The New York Times. Woods denied using performance-enhancing drugs in his statement in February.
Rinaldi and Tilghman did as well as could be expected under the circumstances. With the exception of the Galea investigation, they asked the questions they were supposed to ask, but they really didn't need to be there at all. CBS admirably turned down the interview offer because of the five-minute time limit, but it really wouldn't matter if they got 50 minutes with Woods, or even 500. For all the talk about when Woods is going to hold a press conference, the truth is that he is only going to say what's in the script, and now we've all seen it.
No surprise, it's a comeback story.