Green shoots of recovery spotted in world of Woods
TWO SCENES at Augusta encapsulated Tiger Woods' week and neatly put him into context in April 2010. The first came on Thursday afternoon, when he hit his opening drive in the Masters.
It was his first shot in competition for five and a half months and it flew straight to position 'A' on the fairway. It was greeted with loud applause that did not die out completely until Woods and his playing partners had walked perhaps 100 yards from the tee.
The spectators were applauding the return of the world's best golfer and did so with the decorum expected at a genteel place such as Augusta National. It was not the sort of noise you get on the first tee on the opening day of a Ryder Cup nor the sort of whistling and yelling that you might get in rowdy parts of New York or Boston, but decent applause nonetheless.
As Woods teed off an aircraft trailing a banner circled above him. The banner read: "Tiger did you mean bootyism?" -- a reference to his repeated comments about Buddhism. Later, as Woods was on the seventh, a plane trailing another banner circled overhead. This banner read: "Sex addict. Yeah right, Sure. Me too." That has been Woods' week. A golfer returning to the game after the most publicised hiatus in the history of the sport.
But also a man portrayed as being addicted to sex, who endured 50 days of therapy in a clinic in Mississippi and is the subject of a 6,000-word article in 'Vanity Fair', a high-end American monthly magazine that hit the news stands earlier this month. "The Temptation of Tiger Woods", the piece was called, and with specially taken photographs of three of his conquests, it did not leave much to the imagination.
For some time yet Woods will be known and thought of in two ways, as a golfer and a sex addict, or, if you prefer, a sex addict and a golfer. As his successes at the game grow, so his past misdemeanours will fade. As someone close to Woods pointed out earlier in the week: "A President was involved with Monica Lewinsky in the White House and he was forgiven and his wife is now a leading US politician. People in America forgive. They may not forget but they forgive."
So that was how it was for Woods last week. While he was attempting to win the Masters for a fifth time and remind everyone just what an exceptional golfer he is, there remained a prurient interest in what might be called his off-the-field activities.
To be honest, few if any, thought he could go through what he has, return to competition and be as good as he has been. Whether it was his touch around the greens, his wildness off the tee or simply a degree of competitive rustiness, it was thought that this week Woods could not possibly be the golfer he once was.
Yet somehow he almost was. Starting with the first sub-70 opening round in the 16 Masters in which he has competed, amateur and pro, he played almost as if he had not been away. And why are we surprised? That is what he does. Proving people wrong is Woods' stock in trade. He plays on one leg and wins a Major. He almost always wins Majors that he leads after 54 holes. He holes out for an eagle as he did on the seventh yesterday.
His golf was a confection of good and bad, occasionally wild driving on Thursday but steady putting, and good driving and remarkable iron play not completely offsetting two three-putts on Saturday and more of the same yesterday.
Woods always tended to leave the mistake-free golf to others and so it was last week. Though he had 15 birdies in his first three rounds he also had nine bogeys, five in his third round, when he also had seven birdies. In his first seven holes yesterday, Woods had three bogeys and one eagle. Such up and down golf, even when played by a man as lion-hearted as Woods, does not win Major championships.
Those temperamental outbursts that had become such a part of his game last year have improved. Last February in one of the few passages of his mea culpa that did not sound stage-managed, insincere or written by someone else he said: "I stopped living by the core values I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. I thought only about myself."
In his press conference last Monday, Woods spoke of his need to curb his outbursts even if meant curbing his celebrations as well. "I am going to try and be more respectful of the game and acknowledge the fans," Woods said. "Going through all of this over the past few months, it really puts things in perspective for me and how much I have appreciated -- or under-appreciated -- the fans."
On Thursday there was a moment on the second hole when his right hand came off the club and he turned away and looked down. One sensed he was biting his lip. In years gone by he might have sworn or banged his club or both.
The relative control he continued to show last week was broken on the sixth tee of his third round when he shouted at himself: "Tiger Woods, you suck" and he said "damn" after mishitting his second on the seventh.
These, however, are tiny solecisms when compared to Woods' club banging and profanity in years gone by. If he can survive the three-putt bogey that killed his challenge last night, perhaps he is changing.
He certainly interacted with the fans a little more, often saying "thank you" upon hearing their applause or favourable comments. (© The Times, London)