PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods interviews

PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods interviews

Tiger Woods gave five-minute interviews with Golf Channel and ESPN on Sunday.

Every week of the 2010 PGA Tour season, the editorial staff of the SI Golf Group will conduct an e-mail roundtable. Check in on Mondays for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: All right, folks: what did you think? Tiger’s coming back in bits and pieces here. Is he winning you back (if he ever had you in the first place)?

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: He stayed on his talking points tonight, but overall he is winning me back. Surprisingly, I thought Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman did a much better job than ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi. Woods seemed much more comfortable with Tilghman and was more expansive with his answers.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: It looked to me like he knew what questions he’d be asked in the Golf Channel interview. Not sure if that’s the case or not. On ESPN, Tom Rinaldi made the point that this was the first time Woods had heard the questions, just as it was the first time the viewers had heard them. In any case, I see nothing new here. As Tiger himself says, this comeback, if that’s what it will be, is going to take a long, long time to play out.

David Dusek, deputy editor, He must have practiced for these two interviews extensively. It’s not hard to guess what ESPN and the Golf Channel would ask, so getting answers and talking points ready should have been easy. I thought he was more relaxed with Kelly Tilghman, smiling at the end after talking about his Buddhist bracelet for strength and protection.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: For me, I bought into the first apology more. He didn’t bring anything new to the table tonight and simply repeated what he’d said before, so it felt like a politician with talking points.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, I keep thinking of something Mr. Garrity said a few Confidentials ago. Until he really lays out the night of the crash, people will assume that the Chinese computer animation version of events is truth. He avoided the details again tonight.

Gorant: I agree. It made it feel more than ever that he’s covering up something that went down that night.

Dusek: Part of me is not surprised that Tiger was so careful with his words and is choosing not to be as forthcoming as he could be about what caused the crash. And part of me knows that it’s naïve to think we’re ever going to get the whole story on what happened that night. Tiger is clearly still Tiger. Humbled and genuinely remorseful, but still so guarded.

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: He gave two five-minute interviews that ran concurrently. He’s still not conceding anything to the media.

Morfit: He can’t win me back because I was never there in the first place. What was intriguing to me was that he might let down his guard and become a human being again, now that he’s torched his old life. I’m seeing no signs of that, but these things take time.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Not much new, but interesting choreography — the white columns behind him, the Nike golf gear. Seems to me that Tiger is ready to say “Hello World” again. But I didn’t learn much.

Morfit: All I learned for sure is it’s potentially dangerous to stop meditating.

Bamberger: An IMGer told me a week ago what we’re seeing here: Tiger is reclaiming his place in public life in, to use a Tiger phrase, baby steps. He’ll never say anything detailed, for the sake of his privacy and his family’s, too. The more time he’s in front of cameras, the more of a human being he will seem, no matter how little he says. As a crisis-management PR campaign, I think it’s genius.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: I agree with Michael that Tiger accomplished a great deal tonight. His conversational tone and his total acceptance of responsibility will go a long way toward restoring his fan base. He blundered in both interviews, however, by taking that “It’s all in the police report” stance on the accident. He needs to come clean about that night, even if the details are sketchy, because he stonewalled and almost certainly misled the authorities. The other remaining open wound is the investigation into the Canadian doctor. If that wound continues to fester, all of Tiger’s efforts to win us back will be futile.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Regarding the accident details, he’s not gonna ever give them up because there could have been a crime committed. He’s taking the 5th without actually saying so. If you’re waiting for the play-by-play, it’s gonna be a helluva long wait!

Dusek: It’s a long-term strategy that might work, but in the short run there are so many outlets that are going to be clamoring for details to basic questions. Simply saying, “It’s all there in the police report,” is such a non-answer that it doesn’t quell the curiosity. Maybe over time that curiosity dies away too, but not any time soon. The public won’t feel satisfied by what we heard and saw tonight.

Shipnuck: There was definitely a lot more warmth this time around, in part because of the more intimate setting. It was nice to see Tiger smile again. The answers and language in both interviews were very similar, which is either media coaching or, more likely, the patois of endless therapy. I understand why Tiger’s handlers wanted to keep it short, but it’s totally bizarre that both interviews ran concurrently. Again, that’s just a power ploy.

Herre: Why run the interviews concurrently? Sends a weird message. Plus, the simple fact that the interviews existed and would be shown tonight was not revealed until an hour before they aired. How controlling is that?

Hack: The timing was curious. Why do them during the final round of the Transitions? Anybody even going to notice Jim Furyk’s 14th tour win and first in 2 1/2 years?

Herre: Bad luck on Tiger’s part. Who knew the Transitions was going to run an hour and a half late? Same with the Accenture thing — I don’t think there was any malice on Wood’s part, simply some bad timing.

Gorant: Here’s my guess. Tiger says interviews are embargoed until 7:30, to make sure the Transitions is well over. Both outlets run it as soon as possible, at the same time, but, unfortunately for everyone involved, Tampa gets rain and the tournament ends at 7:40. After the Accenture uproar, I can’t believe TW would intentionally step on a Tour event again.

Shipnuck: Tiger can’t control the weather — not that we know of, anyway — but it’s hilarious that Transitions ran long and all of us clicked over to Tiger and thus missed Furyk closing out his victory. Once again, Woods blots out all else.

Bamberger: I think the point for Tiger here is to let him set a stage in which he can play tournament golf again. For that he needs some rapport with the public, though not much.

Evans: Tiger can easily seduce the public. This has been a war between him and the media. It’s like Nixon said about the “silent majority.” Tiger knows he has most of the fans still.

Morfit: Not sure about the idea that Tiger still has most of the fans, but I guess it depends on your definition of fans. If you’re talking hardcore, unabashed sports fans, you may be right, but I don’t think that generalization holds true for the casual observers.

Herre: Woods has to have lost many if not most of his female fans.

Dusek: On the day Tiger said that he was taking an indefinite leave from competitive golf, my wife, who doesn’t follow the sport, said that he’d come back at the Masters. After watching the two interviews tonight, she walked out of the room and said, “He’s still a jerk.” I think she’s speaking for most women.

Hack: I agree. Sports (and Tour Confidential) is so male-dominated that we forget the legion of women who will never forgive him. I happen to know a few.

Shipnuck: Remember the actor Jude Law getting caught in the sack with his kid’s nanny a few years ago? He didn’t lose his female fans. Maybe some, but definitely not all. There’s a bad boy factor that seems to help these guys. Why? That’s for sociologists, not sportswriters. Or maybe Dear Abby.

Gorant: Yeah, but actors don’t sell themselves as paragons of virtue.

Shipnuck: Tiger sold himself as a golfer. The paragon of virtue stuff got added by the rest of us.

Gorant: It got added by his father.

Morfit: I disagree, Alan. You’re implying he was an innocent bystander as his image got monetized like nothing we’ve ever seen. He obviously was not.

Evans: From the crisis-management experts that I have talked to, Tiger is a disaster if you go by the accepted rules of that game. Tiger still hasn’t faced the media and answered all-comers. That’s how he’s going to put all this business to rest. Right now many of us are being co-opted by his talking points, which is not journalism.

Dusek: Tiger will never, ever answer questions from all comers. And now that he’s done these two interviews, he certainly isn’t going to answer any non-golf questions at Augusta National.

Shipnuck: I agree with Double D. These interviews were as much about Augusta as anything else. I think he’s now likely to skip a pre-tournament presser, which will be helpful to Tiger’s quest to win a green jacket, but bad for those of us in the typing business.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: His non answers will be what people remember, like McGwire in front of the Senate. I sure hope the scribes at Augusta ask Tiger the questions the world wants to know.

Morfit: Stewart Cink told me this week that he thinks Tiger’s return to Augusta is less about the competition and more about returning to public life. Although Cink wasn’t ruling out that Woods would win. (I doubt it.)

Gorant: Interesting that, although both interviewers said they were allowed to ask whatever they wanted, neither brought up Galea. After the car accident, that would have been my second question. 'Have you been questioned by Federal officials about Dr. Anthony Galea?'

Morfit: The problem with that is that 90% of the viewers would have no idea who that is. As news consumers, we can only digest one mega-scandal at a time.

Herre: Woods did not answer Rinaldi when asked what addiction he was being treated for.

Hanger: What other questions would you guys have asked?

Herre: I would have asked Woods about the Vicoden and Ambien prescriptions.

Garrity: I would have asked why I was only getting five minutes.

Gorant: Exactly. If you’re different now and sorry and trying to change, why won’t you sit down and come clean as much as possible? Why still manipulate and use the media as a tool for your own ends?

Dusek: I would have asked why he was unavailable or unwilling to talk with police in the days immediately after the car crash.

Gorant: As it clearly seems you were not happily married, why have you fought so hard to remain married?

Morfit: I give Rinaldi a lot of credit for asking Woods why he got married in the first place. That gets to the heart of the matter.

Evans: Yeah, but every divorce lawyer and family court judge asks that question. Nobody knows what they are getting into when they get married.

Bamberger: Tiger cannot fail at anything, including marriage, and especially parenthood.

Shipnuck: Exactly. It’s the ultimate test — can he win her back? Also, Elin is the key to his image rehabilitation. If she stays then clearly he’s a changed man, right?

Dusek: Elin was not at either interview. In a lot of ways, she’s the most powerful person in this whole thing. If she walks, he’s a loser.

Evans: That’s not true. Staying in a marriage for the media is not good for the children or his golf game. If Elin is unhappy and bitter, Tiger is unhappy and miserable.

Bamberger: And with that, let’s turn to Augusta. Specifically, Tiger at Augusta. For starters, you’re Billy Payne: what two golfers are you going to send out with Tiger for the first two rounds?

Shipnuck: Augusta traditionally pairs up past champs with an amateur. How’d you like to be some pimply teen thrown into the middle of this circus? Yikes!

Dusek: Augusta National should not subject an amateur to playing with Woods under these circumstances.

Lipsey: Two who have little chance to win: An amateur and an elder, like Langer. If it is a contender, somebody who has been asked and agrees to it.

Morfit: I’d guess today’s winner, Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and/or Bubba Watson will volunteer, and I’ll bet Furyk and Stricker get the call. I think you can safely eliminate anyone from Tiger’s group from the list of pre-tournament favorites. It’ll be just too crazy.

Shipnuck: I’d pair him with Retief Goosen for sure. Dude doesn’t have a pulse, anyway. And maybe Tom Watson, who’d wear an ironic grin throughout.

Hanger: I expect he’ll debut Nike’s new line of Buddhist strength bracelets at Augusta. Maybe he’ll hand them out to his playing partners.

Dusek: Today’s winner, Jim Furyk, is a veteran who is mentally tough. He’s been Woods’s teammate before and will probably be one of the guys in the lockerroom who will talk with Tiger a bit, so I’d put him in the group. Zach Johnson, although a pious guy, could probably also take the pressure/attention that group would garner. So could Steve Stricker.

Shipnuck: Too bad Parnevik’s not in the field!

Herre: How about Vijay and Fuzzy?

Shipnuck: It’s always inconvenient for scribes that Augusta doesn’t allow reporters inside the ropes, but this time around I’m glad. That would’ve been an unruly herd of balding, overweight white guys. Not good for Tiger… or our profession.

Lipsey: After the first hole, it’ll be just a horde of people. It won’t be as crazy as people think. Actually, not much different from usual at Augusta. Everybody follows Tiger anyway. His partners will just have to answer more questions. I bet this could inspire an amateur; it could take his mind off nerves.

Bamberger: This threesome suggested by my friend/golf swami Jay Hass (correct spelling): Tiger with 1982 Masters champion Craig Stadler and Asian amateur champion Chang-won Han.

What do you think he can actually do at the Masters? I think he’ll make the cut with a few shots to spare, go low on Saturday, contend but not win on Sunday. Then knock ’em dead the next time we see him, at the U.S. Open.

Lipsey: 50-50 that he makes the cut. If he makes the cut, he’ll lurk around the bottom of the leaderboard.

Shipnuck: Tiger won 3 of his first 6 Masters but only one of the last 7. The evolution of the course into a tighter, more penal test has reduced much of his advantage. Even in a normal year he might not have won. Coming in rusty and overwrought, it’s hard to see it happening. But he’ll grind so hard I expect him to hang around the bottom of the leaderboard.

Dusek: Agreed. Tiger has never broken 70 in the opening round at the Masters, and when he doesn’t this year, the non-golf media will pounce and suggest that the pressure has gotten to him. He’ll get his groove going on the weekend and muster a top 10, but it’s hard to imagine that he could contend for the lead on Sunday evening.

Herre: He’ll be highly motivated and focused. Getting inside the ropes will be a welcome escape. I think he’ll contend.

Gorant: I think he’ll be in it too. Lot of practice time between now and then, and I think he believes it’s the way to stop a lot of the questions, which may be true.

Dusek: Tiger has won a British Open at St. Andrews without hitting into a bunker and a U.S. Open on a broken leg. If he gets a top-five finish at the Masters after a four-month sex scandal, the rest of the guys on the PGA Tour may as well take their clubs and go home.

Evans: He flirts with a top 10 until rustiness catches up with him in Amen Corner on Sunday.

Morfit: I think he’ll barely make the cut and finish way back. That said, I have no idea who wins this thing. No one’s taken advantage of his absence at all. I’ll pick Padraig Harrington.

Hack: He’ll fight to make the cut, but it will be a struggle. The rust, the eyeballs, the course, new grooves, new emotions — I just don’t see him winning this thing.

Bamberger: Do you think Tiger will come out swinging? To me, Tiger has played angry golf his entire career. Very cool, but with an undercurrent of anger. The therapy thing is touchy. If it robs him of his anger it might hurt his golf. My guess is that he’ll be very angry, take it out on his golf ball and be dominant again.

Lipsey: He’s been through a lot — racial taunting as a kid; the illness and death of his father, Earl — and he’s always dominated. That won’t change. He might even be more dominant.

Morfit: Agree that he might be even more dominant. But I don’t think that starts at Augusta.

Dusek: The best thing about Tiger’s game has always been his mental toughness, so he’ll be relying more on his greatest asset. In the long run, the three surgeries to his left knee could have more of an impact on his golf game than the scars of this scandal. I still think he breaks Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors, just maybe not as quickly as we thought.

Lipsey: He’ll blow away the record now. No more baggage on the mind, which could well have been what slowed down the major train in recent years.

Herre: Going back to his days as an amateur, Woods could always take it up a notch when the pressure was the greatest. Don’t know if that’s anger, but it’s the quality that made him great. He seemed to have lost a bit of that in recent years.

Bamberger: Who would you like to see win at Augusta? Woods? Els? Furyk? Somebody else?

Evans: Tiger is a redemption story. Golf and the world could always use one of those.

Gorant: Never thought I’d say this, but bring me Phil in a green coat.

Dusek: Ernie Els. I don’t think slipping into a green jacket could mean more to any player in the field.

Morfit: Els would be the best story by far.

Herre: I’d like to see one of the younger players win the Masters — McIlroy, Kim, Kaymer. More than ever, golf needs fresh faces.

Bamberger: Let’s switch gears here: what were your impressions of Jim Furyk’s win in Tampa? Right on the heels of Ernie’s win, it’s good to see these two war-horses coming back into form.

Herre: Furyk might be the biggest overachiever in Tour history. It’s always good to see him succeed.

Evans: I would have to give that nod to Corey Pavin, but Furyk is a model tour player. He’s meticulous and earnest to a fault and he wants to win each time he plays. Too bad for Bubba Watson. His day is coming soon.

Hack: I love Furyk’s honesty and toughness. The guy doesn’t make excuses. He was upset that he didn’t get it into the house with more style, but he was glad he had the shots to spare. Fluff always says nobody he’s worked for is tougher. Didn’t Fluff used to loop for somebody else?

Morfit: I see Furyk getting another two or three wins before he’s done. I’m a little surprised it’s been this long.