AUGUSTA, Ga. – The next time Tiger Woods takes to a microphone he will do so to talk about golf, and that – regardless of how we got here – is progress.
It’s not as though Woods gave up the goods or, with a few exceptions, stunned the assembled scribes Monday afternoon in a packed Masters media center with revelations beyond those already in the public realm. He stayed on topic regarding the Nov. 27 bumper car incident that ignited the nastiest media free-for-all in the history of the ancient game.
Nor did he reveal why exactly he spent 45 days in therapy. “That’s a personal matter, please,” was his only line in a bunker filled for too long with mud.
Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea may end up haunting Woods like BALCO haunts shamed slugger Barry Bonds, but on Monday before a packed house of scribes Woods did something Bonds has never done. Answer the question.
Why choose a Canadian doctor, who is not licensed to practice medicine in Florida and has a history of HGH use, when any number of physicians could have administered the same procedure?
“He never gave me HGH or any (performance-enhancing drugs). I've never taken that my entire life. I've never taken any illegal drug, ever, for that matter,” said Woods, who explained he underwent a procedure called platelet-enriched plasma treatments to help his knee mend and for an Achilles injury to his right leg he sustained in December 2008.
Why was he taken to an Ocoee, Fla., hospital after smashing his SUV into a neighborhood hedge, tree and fire hydrant on Nov. 27?
“I had a busted up lip and pretty sore neck. Had to have five stitches,” he said.
For 33 minutes Woods fielded 39 questions from 34 different reporters. For 33 minutes the man who distastes media incursions into his personal life so much he named his yacht “Privacy,” answered, if not every question, than at least a number of queries that mattered.
There will be more uncomfortable moments in the weeks and months ahead. On Monday Woods revealed his manager – IMG’s Mark Steinberg, who watched Monday’s proceedings intently from the back of the room – has been contacted by federal authorities about Galea.
Woods also let it be known that his wife, Elin, would not be at Augusta National this week, a bad sign for the marriage some surmised.
But that, like much of the last five months, is Woods’ personal life. What mattered on Monday was how Woods was going to get on with the rest of his professional life.
It seemed strangely telling that Woods admitted to being more nervous teeing off in the morning dew, and the reception he would get from the Augusta National faithful, than he did prior to his first mass media Q&A.
“(The patrons) blew me away,” Woods smiled. “Today that touched my heart pretty good.”
Alongside fan favorite Fred Couples, Woods’ first official practice round of the year had a Bizarro World feel to it – a Sunday capacity crowd with a distinct Monday vibe.
Couples was beloved, while Augusta National’s patrons seemed to want to like Tiger again, but they need time. And that’s a start. There is still an appreciation, but only at arm’s length.
The entire affair had a first-day-of-school feel to it, surreal and subdued. After five months of drama, what does one say to break the ice?
For Couples that answer was easy.
“We had a lot of laughs,” Couples said. “Most of them were about me.”
There wasn’t much for Woods to laugh about afterward, however. Or over the last five months, for that matter. Rampant media speculation is one thing. Stolen moments that can never be reclaimed are an entirely different animal.
“I missed my son’s first birthday in rehab,” Woods admitted. “That hurt. Hurt a lot, and I vowed never to let that happen again.”
The cynic will dismiss Monday’s showing as a well-scripted delivery. The scribe will default to the world No. 1’s actions, not his words, to decide if the born-again Buddhist is on a new path. But the golf fan will walk away from Woods’ 33 rugged minutes and give the man the benefit of the doubt.
Of all Woods’ revelations on Monday, perhaps the most telling came when he was asked his feelings regarding Thursday’s opening round.
“That first tee, I'm looking forward to it. I haven't looked forward to that tee shot in a long time, not like this. It feels fun again.,” Woods smiled. “That's something that's been missing. Have I been winning, have I been competing, have I been doing well? Yeah, I have. I've won numerous times the last few years but I wasn't having anywhere near the amount of fun. Why? Because look at what I was engaged in.”
Black Friday begat Monster Monday. What’s next largely depends on Woods. But having fun is always a start.