As if on cue, Tim Clark ambled by just as Tiger Woods launched into his much-anticipated mea culpa with the words, “I’m really sorry.” With that the most curious year in golf history came full circle.
From the match play giant slayer straight to the metaphorical slain giant.
It was 12 months ago Woods ignited the Dove Mountain pre-dawn practice tee when he returned from eight-months of physical rehabilitation. On Friday it was a rehab of a different sort he was emerging from and a buzz of an entirely different genre.
Forty-five minutes after Clark, who put a premature end to Woods’ storybook comeback last year with his second-round upset of the world No. 1, strolled back through the TV room, fresh from the physio table and, as hard as it may have been to believe, oblivious to the goings on offered, “Is it on again?” as the taped event was replayed.
It will be “on” for some time, because for all the questions Woods answered on Friday there still remain many left unanswered.
From performance-enhancing drugs to domestic abuse, Woods covered a lot of ground in his 13 odd minutes at the podium.
Talking point No. 1, given the venue, was why Woods had to make this announcement on Friday of WGC-Match Play week, curious timing given his broken relationship with Accenture that drew the ire of some players.
The answer: After 45 days of in-patient therapy Woods admitted he had to talk on Friday because he was returning to therapy on Saturday. “I have a long way to go,” Woods said.
“I thought Tiger was very humble,” Ben Crane said. “We all love him and want to see what’s best for him.”
Players, many of whom are closet golf fans, also wanted to know when, or if, Woods will return to the Tour fray. For that Woods offered only an ambiguous, “I do plan to return to golf one day. I just don’t know when that day will be.”
Butch Harmon, the Tour swing coach who worked with Woods earlier in his career, was not confident that “that day” would be this year.
“He did say he’d like to play this year,” Harmon said. “That leads me to believe he probably won’t be back this year.”
For Stewart Cink the question is an exercise in futility: “For me to try to get inside his head and figure out when he’s coming back is impossible. I can’t do that. I’ve tried to do that on the golf course many times.”
And of course Woods made a plea for privacy, saying, “I understand people have questions. I understand the press wants to ask me details. Every one of these questions and answers are between me and my wife.”
Harmon, however, was more realistic.
“The idea he’s going to stand there and not get questions asked is a little ridiculous,” Harmon said.
The rest, at least for a circuit gutted by the distraction that began with a simple fender-bender outside Woods’ Isleworth home, is window dressing, at least to Tour types.
Perhaps the most telling moment occurred after Woods had completed his prepared statement and following an emotional embrace of his mother when he offered Tour commissioner Tim Finchem a handshake and the stunned commish remained seated before offering what appeared to be a confused hand.
“I do plan to return to golf one day,” can’t be what Finchem envisioned when he offered the use of the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse just as things were getting interesting at what is billed as one of the Tour’s marquee events.
But then therapy, a true sign more so than all his words of Woods’ humanity, is as good a reason as any to supplant the WGC spotlight, and maybe Ernie Els’ pointed comments regarding the timing of the event were overly harsh given the uncertainty of it all.
“It's selfish,” Els said on Wednesday. “You can write that. I feel sorry for the sponsor. Mondays are a good day to make statements, not Friday. This takes a lot away from the golf tournament.”
On Friday he wasn’t around Dove Mountain, having lost his second-round match on Thursday to Retief Goosen, but it is a safe bet he was watching. Just as Clark was watching. And what they saw was a different Tiger. A Tiger that was contrite and emotional and sincere. It was a far cry from the cold, on-course assassin we are used to seeing.
“He tried to be as sincere as Tiger Woods can be,” Harmon said.
And at an event that had the feel of an early step in a 12-step program, that’s a good start.