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When Tiger Returns

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When Tiger Woods does come back, it will be another moment where most of America stops what it is doing to watch, very much like the day he apologized. That lasted nearly 14 minutes.

This will be up to six hours, from the time he gets out of his car, to his warm up on the practice tee, to his four-and-a-half hour round, to the post-round interview, presuming there is one.
Tiger Woods
Plenty of questions will still remain after Tiger Woods returns. (Getty Images)
During those six hours, we’ll watch how he interacts with his fellow players. Do they embrace or just shake hands? Are there smiles, maybe laughs or is it very serious?

What kind of applause will he get on the first tee? Will he be heckled? If so how will he handle it?

The Masters minimizes that possibility because its patrons are the most golf knowledgeable, most respectful of any tournament in the world. Decorum is paramount on the grounds of Augusta National.

Wherever he plays, security will be heavy. If before Tiger had a few officers inside the ropes and a few plain clothes types outside, that number could triple with hecklers identified and removed.

As for the media, Woods has reportedly hired former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer. Conveniently for Fleisher and his fledgling enterprise that fact appeared to be leaked. But Fleisher’s record with President Bush and more recently disgraced St. Louis Cardinal Mark McGwire is spotty. McGwire made the puzzling statement that steroids didn’t really help him, instantly losing credibility.

Look, the public forgives and the public in Tiger’s case wants to see him play golf because he’s been beyond good. But the public doesn’t want spin.

Vulnerability’s not bad, even if it runs counter to everything Tiger’s ever done before. Nothing rattled this guy. He was unbreakable. Go to the gym, put on the red shirt and then crush everyone in his path.

Tiger can engender more understanding and even empathy if he explains that he didn’t have the tools to deal with life on life’s terms – fame, his father’s death, loneliness on the road and temptation. In the language of recovery, now he has the tools but he’s far from being a master craftsman.

Tiger certainly need not share salacious details and he won’t. But for now it’s okay to not be so perfect or tightly managed. Adding Fleischer to the team suggests that he’ll be tightly managed.  

Keep in mind, too, that Woods is in the early stages of his recovery. There are absolutely no guarantees. Relapse rates, whatever the addiction, are alarmingly high.

As to whether he’ll be as good as he has always been, there seem to be two schools of thought. First, he hasn’t suffered a physical setback, he’s 34 and in the prime of his career. And, as NBC’s Gary Koch said to me recently, if he could win six tournaments a year living two different lives, imagine how good he’ll be living just one life with a clean conscience.

On the other hand, part of what made him so intimidating was that players viewed him as the guy with no weaknesses. Now that they know he’s flawed, maybe they’ll be able to remove their own psychological barriers in getting past him. Remember, too, that in recent years, though Woods was winning, he wasn’t winning by as much as he had been 10 years ago.  

Still, winning by one or 12, Woods has always been cold blooded and ruthless on the golf course. Will the humility that you must have in order to be successful in any program of recovery soften that killer instinct?  

Perhaps, but if Tiger is at peace with himself and the world around him, then he might find that is a state of being from which to play brilliant golf as well.