He may be remembered for doing it better than anyone who’s ever played the game.
If you believed his apology Friday in his first public appearance in nearly three months, he’s determined to win another great prize.
“I once heard, and I believe it’s true, it’s not what you achieve in life that matters,” Woods said. “It’s what you overcome.
“Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example. Character and decency are what really count.”
The words were sincerely delivered even though they didn’t sound like the words of a changed man. In fact, that’s why they seemed so sincere. Woods didn’t sound like a man determined to transform who he is. He sounded like a man determined to aim the more formidable powers of his personality at taming the unruly lust that’s turned his life upside down in his reckless infidelities.
If you were hoping to see a changed man during Woods’ speech, you were disappointed.
He was Tiger-esque, even in his stunning admission of weakness. There was defiance and even anger laced amid the contrite admission of his flaws.
Woods didn’t sound like a man determined to transform his nature as much as one determined to beat another opponent.
“I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in,” Woods said. “I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them.
“I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me.”
These were remarkably candid admissions for an athlete with Woods’ pride, but they did not ring with the tone of a broken man seeking to change his nature. They echoed with the certainty of a man convinced his nature can win this battle, too.
“This thing, it teaches him, just like golf,” Woods’ mother, Kultida, told pool reporters. “When he changes a swing he wants to get better. He will start getting better, it’s just like that. Golf is just like life, when you make a mistake, you learn from your mistake and move on stronger. That’s the way he is.”
Woods is poised to aim his willpower at his character flaws with the same ferocity he aims it at weaknesses in his golf game.
“It's now up to me to make amends,” Woods said. “And that starts by never repeating the mistakes I've made. It's up to me to start living a life of integrity.”
There were probably three groups of viewers who tuned in to see Woods. There were his loyal fans who see his transgressions as none of anyone’s business but his family’s. There were his critics who won’t forgive what they perceive as an arrogance and betrayal of a public trust as a sports icon.
And then there’s the folks in the middle, those of us who want him to win us back. Those of us who want to see him redeem himself as a husband, father and man. Those of us who want to cheer him but aren’t certain he deserves our loyalty.
Woods didn’t win us back today. We’re a little like his wife, Elin.
“As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time,” Woods said.
There’s a journey Woods will soon resume, one of the great journeys in sports, his quest to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional major championships. We don’t want what will be a historic feat to feel like Barry Bonds’ pursuit of Hank Aaron’s home run record. We want the journey to be something to celebrate, for Woods to be a man we want to succeed.
Mostly, we want Woods in some meaningful way to invite us to join him on this journey. He didn’t in his apology Friday. He was Tiger-esque in his focus upon the people in that TPC Sawgrass clubhouse room, his inner circle. His choice of words made it clear his apology wasn’t for the rest of us at all.
“Many of you in this room are my friends,” Woods began his speech. “Many of you in this room know me. Many of you have cheered for me or you've worked with me or you've supported me. Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me. I want to say to each of you, simply and directly, I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior.”
The closest Woods came to reaching outside that room was his reach toward parents of children who have cheered for him.
“Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids,” Woods said. “I owe all those families a special apology. I want to say to them that I am truly sorry.”
Outside that departure, Woods left us feeling like uninvited guests leering into a window he had no choice but to open to prepare for his return. In the end, it feels like we’ll be watching the same Tiger we’ve always watched, a talent more awed than beloved.