PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods statement and WGC-Accenture Match Play

PGA Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods statement and WGC-Accenture Match Play

Tiger Woods said he does not know when he will return to golf.
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

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.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: We’re back again at Confidential for more verbs, nouns and occasional complete sentences. This week the usual suspects are joined by golf writer Stephanie Wei of She’s a former member of the Yale golf team, a Seattle native and an up-and-coming voice in the world of golf.

It was Tiger’s week. We’ve had a few days to digest what Tiger said and how the world reacted. Tiger is to golf what Toyota is to cars — a tarnished leader. Did you buy Tiger’s talk? I can’t judge whether he was sincere, but the important thing was that he said it. He took the blame. I thought it was a step forward for him, if he means it.

Stephanie Wei, Thanks for having me. After watching Tiger’s reading at least 10 times, I grew more sympathetic. Let’s just say, I think it could have gone much worse. It would have been better had he not sounded so scripted, but I can’t imagine having to utter some of those words. Humiliating. I give him credit for letting his guard down, however little.

Jim Gorant, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Plus: I agree. Not perfect, a few weird parts, and a bit robotic, but necessary and accomplished what needed to be accomplished.

David Dusek, deputy editor, A good start to the process. When he comes back, Tiger will hold press conferences like every other PGA Tour player, so all of that is going to happen in time.

Jim Herre, managing editor, SI Golf Group: Woods won me over when he said he’s returning for more treatment.

Van Sickle: Good call. That indicated an actual commitment and seemed to put golf in its place. FYI, Finchem stopped by the press center to chat with writers and said, to clear things up, that Tiger was not suspended by the Tour, that he’s free to come back any time. He also said not warning the players in Tucson early in the week was a mistake, and that he apologized to Ernie Els, among others, for that.

Dusek: Finchem’s not telling the players ahead of time is a big deal to me. Ernie Els, Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy … None of them make the statements they did if they had a few facts that Finchem knew on Wednesday.

Damon Hack, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I was struck by how Tiger looked — dour, defeated, depressed. Beyond the words, which I’d never heard out of his mouth before, this was a Tiger Woods I’d never seen before. Really wounded.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated: That’s what made it so fascinating. He’s always been in control of the situation, choosing his words carefully, never saying anything controversial. This is the first time he’s been on the spot. All things considered, I thought he handled it well.

John Garrity, contributing writer, Sports Illustrated: Tiger’s language sounded stilted to me, as if he had written down what his Mom told him (“You were selfish!”) and what every columnist wrote about him (“He thinks he’s better than us!”), substituted the first-person pronoun, and then cut-and-pasted it into a script. I should add, however, that I didn’t SEE Tiger’s performance; I listened to it in my car while driving to the airport. And as I recall, those who listened to the 1960 presidential debate on the radio thought that Nixon won it.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, Golf Magazine: I think the message was right but the forum was wrong. I know a lot of people think he doesn’t need to go on Oprah, or a show like it, but it actually would have helped him a lot to have someone to talk to, to ask him questions, to interact with. As it was, one guy standing there and telling the camera and his mom and Notah Begay III that he’s sorry 47 times — I thought the bizarro stagecraft made the whole thing even more awkward than it needed to be.

Van Sickle: I agree it was bizzarro, but in this case I think Tiger had to be in complete control. I don’t think he can be a sympathetic figure in any interview on his misdeeds. It’s just a no-win for him.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: I can’t believe how many pundits are ripping what he said. He gets shredded for not talking and then when he opens up it’s not good enough. Dude can’t win.

Gorant: Other than a few flashes of anger about media coverage of his family, he did look as if he’d been broken to a certain degree. Having been so humbled off the course, I wonder if he can ever regain that on-course swagger. Of course, some people said just the opposite: he was unbowed, manipulating the setting and dictating the terms.

Morfit: Oh, I think he was bowed. I liked that he also said he needs to show the game some more respect. And I would hope that he’ll realize that should apply not just to his comportment on the course but across the board, all the way to granting a few more interviews, and playing in a few more off-the-grid tournaments in the U.S.

Herre: Some critics seemed to be fixated on Woods’s performance rather than the bigger picture.

Godich: Exactly. And I’m not sure what they expected. The guy stood there for 13 minutes and talked about his transgressions, with his mother sitting on the front row. Can it be more humiliating?

Van Sickle: Only if they made him use a hand puppet. On that note, no sign of Frank the Talking Headcover among the Friends of Tiger in attendance.

Morfit: I’m not sure the objective is to humiliate the guy, actually. I think what Woods had to do was demonstrate an understanding that he was wrong on so many levels: wrong to do what he did to his family, wrong to make hundreds of millions from an image that was obviously so at odds with reality, wrong to be the imperious jerk who swore and threw clubs, and on and on. As far as I’m concerned, he showed that he gets it. I liked that he said he realized he didn’t get to play by a different set of rules anymore.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: One note about Tiger’s physical appearance. He looked so pale and sleep-deprived and shell-shocked. I was almost shocked at how he looked. Yes he brought this thing on himself, but he’s going through hell.

Dusek: After watching and listening to Tiger’s monologue at least a half dozen times on Friday and Saturday, I think what he did and said was a prescribed portion of his therapy. The wording, the references to a higher power (for him, Buddhism), admitting selfishness that hurt his family and friends, requesting their forgiveness and help. That was straight out of a 12-step program. The camera was there simply so he could apologize to the world also.

Morfit: I totally agree. It felt funny to be part of his 12-step program. It also felt weird that Golf Channel’s Charlie Rymer couldn’t stop crying. Not sure what that was all about.

Gorant: Definitely seemed like the atonement portion of a 12-step program — face-to-face apologies to those you’ve injured. In this regard, I wonder after the fact if inviting a handful of GWAA writers was an attempt to include that group in the apology. He didn’t have to invite any, and he certainly didn’t need to single out the GWAA. At the very least it shows that he differentiates between the golf media and the tabloid media that has been hounding him.

Garrity: I’m with Gary in this respect: I didn’t want an apology — what business of mine is Tiger’s private life? — but I think he needs to describe what happened the night of the wreck. That should be addressed because there was police and court involvement, and we’re entitled to know if he gave an honest account to the authorities. Or if there was a cover-up. Or how accurate those Chinese animated re-enactments were.

Bamberger: He’ll never go there, John. Anything you say may and will be used against you in a court of law. He hasn’t talked because it would likely be self-incriminating, maybe not legally, but he has no need to pile on to the humiliation.

Garrity: You’re right, any lawyer would tell Tiger to keep his mouth shut about Thanksgiving. But we can’t believe Tiger is telling the truth about Elin being as cool and pure as Grace Kelly that night, not if he can’t come up with a plausible explanation for a single-car crash at the mouth of his own driveway. (It would not behoove Tiger, of course, to be anything other than gallant on that score. But in the absence of refutation, the animee version will be the definitive treatment.)

Farrell Evans, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated : I don’t think we’ll ever know the degree of Tiger’s sincerity. But we do know that from the stagecraft on Friday, that despite re-claiming Buddhism and being forced to show humility for the first time in his career, he is still a control freak who has a Richard Nixon-sized animosity toward the media.

Bamberger: Why wouldn’t he have a Richard Nixon-sized animosity toward the media? All the media’s done for him is ruin what he thought was a good thing.

Morfit: Yeah, that and deify him.

Bamberger: I’m referring to the National Enquirer, which the public regards as the media, and everything that came from its reporting.

Wei: Agree with Cameron. Tiger can’t blame the media. Intense public scrutiny goes along with being Tiger Woods. If he wanted to remain private, he shouldn’t have signed multi-million dollar contracts to sell Nike shirts and Gillette razors or post pictures of his happy family on his public website.

Charlie Hanger, executive editor, I think the media criticism was specific to paparazzi chasing the kids and people making up domestic violence stories with no facts. I’m OK with him going after that media, even though he should’ve talked earlier to quash the rumors.

Van Sickle: Would be nice if Tiger separated the jackals (mercenary paparazzi and celebrity gossipers) from the mainstream media. It’s not The New York Times and Golf Magazine following his kids to school or tracking Elin’s movements. I saw a tabloid headline today, “Let the Elin begin,” on a story about her taking her daughter shopping. Maybe Tiger doesn’t make a distinction, but obviously us mainstreamers do.

Morfit: But what if the National Enquirer and US Weekly didn’t get involved in this story? If that’s the case, we’re talking about the WGC-Accenture Match Play right now, and what a great rally Tiger made in the second 18 to beat Ian Poulter. (Or something like that.) What if this story had never become public? Would golf be better off? Or will it be better off with a humbled, changed Tiger?

Herre: In a certain selfish way, this Tiger reset gives the story of his career, and our coverage of him, a tremendous boost.

Bamberger: I agree. You can only go so far writing Goliath. Now he’s a redemption story.

Van Sickle: I think we’re better off this way in the long run. The Tour AND the media need to acknowledge their own addiction issues — their Tiger addiction. We’re all too dependent on Tiger, who got bigger than the game because of his accomplishments and his persona. We’ve all seen what a double-edged sword Tiger’s rise has been. Tournaments he doesn’t play are struggling, and so are tours he doesn’t play. And if Tiger follows up on all he said, he’ll be a better man for it.

Dusek: I agree that Tiger will be a better person in the long run if he walks the
talk once he comes back, and maybe this will make us, the golf media, work a little harder to find interesting, compelling stories out there. The trouble has always been that the public was so enthralled by Tiger’s accomplishments and smile that Phil Mickelson has been the only other one to get any significant spotlight. No one craves what they don’t know.

Wei: Everything that’s transpired has been tragic, and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, but ultimately when Tiger comes back, he’ll be bigger than ever — that is, if he wins. This might even be a positive for the Tour in the long run. Tiger’s first tournament will be the most watched golf event in history, I would assume. This could turn into an inspiring comeback story.

Shipnuck: Tiger has always been a heavy favorite at every tournament. When he returns it will be the comeback story of all time. The first act of his career was legendary: the upcoming second act will be much more interesting.

Evans: What would make this a redemption story is if Tiger can play good golf and keep his family together. More professional success is certain for him. But less certain is how he can learn to manage that success with his familial responsibilities.

Van Sickle: The irony is how much of a doting father Tiger seemed to be, something he couldn’t possibly fake, whenever he talked about his kids the last two years. He seemed happier and more content than he’d ever been in some press conferences where he lowered his veil of privacy slightly. I don’t doubt for a second that he meant every word, but it’s quite a contrast to look back at those comments a year later.

Dusek: As he said, he felt entitled to things because he was Tiger Woods. I don’t think this had anything to do with his NOT loving his wife and family.

Wei: As one wise guy tells me, “every dude likes a piece of strange.” I can’t speak on that, obviously, but seems about right. No, I’m not judging. But not saying I think it’s right.

Van Sickle: I think the best thing about his Friday talk is that we have a sort of momentary closure. We know what he’s been doing, maybe where he’s been doing it, we know he’s going to go there and do it some more. Assuming he’s not playing Augusta, I feel like the media as a whole can take a break from Tiger for a few months and let him heal.

Dusek: Agreed, and the value of spy-photos and the urge for the tabs to write sensational headlines proclaiming all kinds of crazy things will decrease. We know where he is, and have a sense for how this is being played out so far.

Wei: Right on. I felt ready to move on. We’re all understandably wrapped up in the story, but I just want to watch him play golf. I wish he would have at least told us when he was coming back, but the fact that he didn’t shows he’s committed to his treatment.

Wei: It was interesting that Notah Begay was his only friend there. Is that saying something? I know John Cook turned down the invite. But were there others?

Van Sickle: There was a senior tour event so Cook and others couldn’t attend. But it maybe raises a question of how many actual good friends Tiger has among the rank and file on the PGA Tour. Since he spends so little time hanging around the locker room, I’d say he probably doesn’t have that many. Not unlike Greg Norman, who preferred to helicopter to and from tournaments and went from being one of the guys in the locker room to an isolated multimillionaire who lost touch with his fellow players.

Bamberger: Who were those people? You can’t have 40 lawn guys, can you?

Gorant: Begay had a chance to play in the Mayakoba, too. That’s a friend.

Van Sickle: Elin wasn’t there. Neither was Steve Williams (despite the broken camera). Tida was, and she blamed the media afterward for a double standard.

Morfit: I’m thinking one or two of them may have been from his support group in Mississippi.

Garrity: Notah, who had his own fall from grace with a DWI arrest, probably is the friend who could best relate.

Dusek: I think Elin’s not being present shows how seriously Woods & Co. are taking this, and that things are a long way from being settled.

Godich: I didn’t expect to see her there. She is holding all the cards, and he is going to have to prove that he’s sincere about being a husband and father. That’s why I think he’s nowhere close to coming back.

Gorant: Think it was better that she wasn’t. That whole wife standing demurely by your side while you backpedal for the cameras has become a cliché.

Godich: Elin’s absence also sends a stronger message — that she might be willing to forgive him and take him back. But she’s not there yet.

Wei: I’m also glad Elin wasn’t there. It’s awful to watch a scorned wife standing by her cheating husband’s side like an ornament. It just seems demeaning.

Herre: Alleged enabler Bryon Bell was there, right?

Van Sickle: I believe he was. There’s a story on wires today with ex-Ryder Cup captain Bernard Gallacher calling for Tiger to get a new supporting cast and rid himself of those who have been enabling him. Maybe Steinberg is going to start taking some of the heat for Tiger’s actions.

Hack: He should start with a new caddie. How about Steve Williams saying he’s ready to take on the hecklers. Steve, now is a time for quiet.

Godich: Yeah, I chuckled when I saw that. Where’s Fluff when you need him?

Van Sickle: Fluff’s busy being quiet, but he’s too late.

Wei: Bad move if Stevie is going to go after the crowd. At this point, Tiger just has to understand and take the hits. Prove everyone wrong with strong play. They’ll shut up once he starts blowing the field away and winning majors.

Morfit: He should hire Bart Bryant’s guy, Mr. Clean. That guy could not look meaner and could not be nicer. Exactly what TW needs on the bag.

Evans: Tiger definitely needs a caddie with a more gentle spirit. You can be a protector and a good servant without being a jerk to your boss’s fans.

Van Sickle: Tiger wants somebody he can count on and somebody who’s a hell of a caddie. That’s Stevie. I don’t think this changes anything. Stevie stays on the bag.

Godich: But Tiger needs to have a sit-down with Stevie and tell him to knock it off. Confronting rowdy gallery members will only encourage more banter. Just like telling the tabloid media to back off will only encourage them.

Dusek: Obviously we’re all guessing, but when do people think Tiger will return to golf?

Shipnuck: Given how fragile he seemed, I don’t expect to see him before the U.S. Open, and even that seems like a stretch. He could very well miss Pebble and St Andrews. Mind-boggling.

Morfit: I’d guess late summer sometime. I just can’t see him saying what he said Friday and returning at the Tavistock and then Bay Hill. It seems unrealistic.

Godich: I’m going to say the British. And the longer he stays away, the better he looks in all of this.

Wei: I was assuming he’d be back for The Masters, but given his fragile state, that’s probably not happening. I’d guess he’s back by the US Open.

Dusek: The irony of coming back for the U.S. Open, played over Father’s Day weekend, would be insane. As much as Tiger the Golfer must salivate at the prospect of Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, I think he could be out for the year.

Van Sickle: A few thoughts on Ian Poulter winning the Match Play? It’s great for him to get something on his U.S. resume finally. Not sure it’ll translate to instant victories in stroke play events, but I like his mental toughness in match play. His outfits are fun, too. He’s good for golf.

Wei: Good to see Poulter win. He adds some spice. Anyone catch him mocking the rules official yesterday? And what was the deal with Sergio’s comment after the match? That just seemed like Sergio was, well, being Sergio — a sore loser.

Morfit: Good to see Poulter get off the schneid in the U.S. The guy can look like a world-beater sometimes, most recently at the 2008 British Open and Ryder Cup. This could help him get to the next level, whatever that is. Majors, I guess. Or maybe a major.

Herre: The final was kind of a snooze but I enjoyed Saturday’s semis. It’s always fun to watch the pros try to cope with extreme weather. Sergio, in particular, hit some really squirrelly shots.

Dusek: Poulter was obviously really strong, but I was wondering what Corey Pavin must have been thinking this weekend as he watched three European players make the semifinals and no Americans looking especially strong.

Godich: With Tiger and Phil missing and all of the upsets, there might not have been a better winner. He’s certainly entertaining.

Van Sickle: Poulter is wonderfully self-absorbed and loves attention. He could be just the guy golf needs right now. All he has to do is start winning more often. He’s already a first-order Tweeter and has almost 1 million followers. He’s fun and flashy.

Hack: The man is long and straight and makes everything he looks at. Recipe for a major if you ask me. He likes the big event.

Van Sickle: The Ryder Cup experience, where he had an X on his back, really made him stronger. He seems ready for his closeup, Mr. DeMille.

Evans: Poulter doesn’t lack for confidence. He is as good as any of those other slim, well-dressed Brit golfers — Luke Donald, Paul Casey, Justin Rose etc. But a game changer in the U.S? Probably not. This was just his turn to shine.

Bamberger: Well, Poulter is one ahead of Monty in that States, and I don’t see Monty catching up anytime soon. Or anytime.

Wei: Now I wonder what kind of car Poults will reward himself with his winning to add to his lavish collection.

Rick Lipsey, writer-reporter, Sports Illustrated: No Americans in the final four was interesting.

Van Sickle: Get used to that. Men’s golf will probably go the way of women’s golf, with more and more foreign players moving into the top 20. It’s just numbers. The rest of the world outnumbers us. And now that Asia is going golf crazy, it’s just a matter of time. I may have to check out Rosetta Stone DVDs. Just wondering whether to go with Chinese or Korean.

Garrity: Start with English.

Wei: Tough call, but Chinese is probably a better investment. More people. Golf is blowing up there right now. Watch out in 10 years — they’re probably grooming the Chinese Tiger Woods as we type.