Phoney war blown to smithereens as Tiger takes first shot at redemption
THE monthly medal came to Augusta. That is what the most eagerly awaited tee shot in the history of golf reduced to in the iron psyche of Tiger Woods.
Millions watching worldwide, patrons shoehorned 50 deep around the tee-box, with the words of Augusta chairman Billy Payne hanging heavier than the pollen.
No golfer has had to contend with the scrutiny Woods heaped upon himself at 1.43 in the Augusta afternoon. And it did not amount to a nanogram of beans. Trauma, terrible things, narcotics overload, rampant infidelity, mortification?
Nope, none of it touched the sides as he smashed his ball down the middle and the doubts to smithereens. Payne's elegant rebuke was unsolicited and took up any spare capacity in the outraged committee rooms of American golf, though one wondered what kind of a past old Billy might have had to speak with such pious authority.
Six hours before Woods smoked his opening tee shot, those twin pillars of Augusta fable, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, stroked the tournament into life with a ceremonial flourish. The larks were barely out of bed, the light, like an eco bulb, slow to reach full burn.
This is the moment that great careers are recognised. They floated to the tee on an ocean of affection, and when they had sent their balls through the ether returned to the club house the same way, Palmer holding the hand of his second wife, Kathleen, as they crossed onto the lawn.
Woods was thus boxed in by Payne's moralising and Arnie's obvious affection for Mrs P. Would the same honour be extended to Woods in his greying years?
And would Elin be on his arm? One can only speculate about the temptations laid before Palmer in his poster-boy youth, when he lit up the Sixties with his charisma and charm. If he did play a few shots, the world never knew.
Woods might not be the fallen figure he is now had he not been complicit in the Tiger Woods construction created by PR Inc. And we might have found it easier to forgive had he not packaged his remorse so cynically. The trend continues with his poorly judged Nike ad featuring the voice of his father. It is a curious animal that seeks to profit from the shame that he has brought on himself.
This calculating theme plays out in the rehabilitation process with Woods presenting his carnal rampage as an aberration, something done by him but not of him.
In this sense he can claim diminished responsibility because it was not the 'real' Tiger giving in to the base pull of libidinal desire. Nonsense, of course, and dangerous, too, since it makes him a hostage to fortune the next time he forgets who he is.
For now he is Tiger Woods the golfer again, and if the applause that greeted him is any guide, ethical issues do not weigh heavily in the consciousness of Woods's apologists. They sent him off as if he were going into battle, the noise would have raised the roof at Cheltenham on Gold Cup day.
His approach checked 10 feet left of the pin and his birdie putt slid right. The perfect start eluded Woods by an inch. It also challenged his new commitment to the smiling face.
He did not like that geometry of that putt, the truth of which was stretched across the game face.
The ball got the same treatment on two, ripped off the face towards position A. As the greenside audience looked back up the fairway Woods appeared like an ethnic Custer on the brow of the hill preparing to charge the flagstick.
You wanted to pass him a note advocating patience. Again the last to shoot for the stick, his long-iron approach, aimed for the narrow entry between bunkers at the front, drifted narrowly right to finish awkwardly on the edge of the trap.
Ian Poulter, heading up the third in the group ahead, checked out the scene. Like the rest of Augusta, Poulter could not avert his gaze from the story of the day.
Woods had to settle for par, falling a shot behind his playing partners K J Choi and Matt Kuchar. His first strike against the course would come at the next hole. Woods drilled the birdie from five feet to send the patrons into rapture. The noise told the field that Woods was on his way. (© Daily Telegraph, London)