AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods never felt he had to apologize for his temper.
Perhaps the most infamous moment – and there are many – came at Pebble Beach in the 2000 U.S. Open, which he won by 15 shots.
Finishing off the fog-delayed second round on a Saturday morning, Woods hooked his tee shot on No. 18 into the ocean and screamed a series of profane words captured by the boom mike next to the tee marker. In most homes, it was cartoon hour.
Eight months later, during a practice round at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Woods came to the 18th tee and went through a list of more swear words as he tried to remember exactly what he had said. Someone finally helped him out by repeating the phrase, adding, “At least that’s what my kids told me.”
Woods didn’t find this funny. His face hardened. His eyes glared.
“I am who I am,” he said and walked away.
And now he’s going to try to be someone he has never been.
Woods said during his 13 1/2-minute statement at Sawgrass that he needed to be more respectful of the game. He pledged that anew on Monday during his press conference at the Masters when asked how he would show more respect.
“I’m actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play,” Woods said.
That should be simple enough for now.
Woods is contrite. He has shown more humility. He also is very embarrassed. This is no time to slam a club.
Equally curious, however, was the second half of that pledge.
“But then again … I’m not going to be as exuberant, either,” he said. “I can’t play one without the other, and so I made a conscious decision to try and tone down my negative outbursts. And consequently, I’m sure my positive outbursts will be calmed down as well.”
Woods has a chip from behind the 16th green late Sunday afternoon at Augusta National with a one-shot lead. The ball scoots up the slope, then trickles to the hole and stops on the edge before dramatically dropping for a birdie as the crowd goes crazy.
Woods tips his cap, nods to the gallery and walks to the next tee.
Emotion – good and bad – has always been part of his game.
His first fist pump came as an 11-year-old when he beat his father for the first time. All square on the 18th at Navy Golf Course, Woods made a 15-foot birdie putt that broke to the right and “I started upper-cutting the air.”
“It was the greatest thing I ever did in my life, beating my dad,” he said three years ago.
For all we know, cussing and throwing clubs might have started even earlier. It has been part of his repertoire for far too long, and Woods hasn’t been able to do much about it.
He once hooked a tee shot at the Byron Nelson Championship and angrily yelled, “Fore!” – even though no fans were allowed on the left side of the fairway. Woods no doubt was keeping himself from saying another four-letter word.
Aware that he shouldn’t swear after a bad tee shot, he hit one into the trees at Firestone one year. His instinct was to let loose some profanity, but knowing the cameras were trained on him, Woods walked to the back of the tee box, bowed his head and let loose – with a young boy looking up at him wide-eyed.
Woods didn’t say why he had to wait until he got caught cheating on his wife to tone down his temper.
The question is how long it lasts. He might be muted at the Masters, but it is hard to imagine him turning into Retief Goosen the rest of his career, much less the season.
“You can never tell what’s going on in somebody’s head,” Padraig Harrington said. “But in Tiger’s case, he had changed in the last couple of years and was definitely tougher on himself on the golf course.”
Looking back, his recent outbursts make sense.
In the last tournament he played, at the Australian Masters, Woods flung his driver to the turf after a poor tee shot. The club bounced into and over the gallery, and Woods went over to retrieve it as if he were picking up his tee. He said nothing to the fans, a greater sin than tossing the club in the first place.
“I’ve won numerous times the last few years, but I wasn’t having anywhere near the amount of fun,” Woods said. “Why? Because look at what I was engaged in. When you live a life where you’re lying all the time, life is not fun. And that’s where I was. Now that’s been stripped all away, and here I am. And it feels fun again.”
Fist pumps are fun.
Arnold Palmer famously threw his visor into the gallery when he won the U.S. Open. Jack Nicklaus leapt when he made that 40-foot birdie putt on the 16th hole of the 1975 Masters, leaving what became known as “bear tracks.”
There’s no reason he has to stop celebrating to get rid of the cursing.
“Golf is usually played with the outward appearance of great dignity,” Masters co-founder Bobby Jones once said. “It is, nevertheless, a game of considerable passion – either the explosive type, or that which burns inwardly and sears the soul.”
Woods is the explosive type. It’s hard to imagine him any other way.