Woods: ‘I’m going to try to win this thing’
AUGUSTA, Ga. – He looked like the same Tiger Woods, head down as he walked along the first fairway at the Masters, no one suspecting the jangled nerves he felt from taking his golf public for the first time since his private life unraveled.
One fan called out, “Welcome back, Tiger.”
Instead of ignoring him as he has done so often, Woods turned toward the man with a wave and a smile.
Jeff Babineau reacts to Tiger Woods’ Monday press conference at the Masters and says he expects Woods to be in the mix on Sunday.
“To be out there in front of the people, where I have done some things that are just horrible, and for the fans to really want to see me play golf again ... I mean, that felt great,” Woods said Monday. “That really did.”
Then came another tense moment – facing the media for the first time since he was exposed for cheating on his wife.
He dodged questions with rehearsed answers, refused to go into details about the therapy he sought or the state of his marriage, except that his wife won't be at Augusta National this week. But there was a touch of humility and patience in his voice during a 35-minute press conference. He even tried to call every writer by name.
“I need to be a better man going forward than I was before,” he said. “And just because I've gone through treatment doesn't mean it stops. I'm trying as hard as I possibly can each and every day to get my life better and better and stronger. And if I win championships along the way, so be it.”
One thing hasn't changed.
Woods, a four-time champion who hasn't hit a shot that mattered since Nov. 15, is not at the Masters simply to make amends.
“Going to go out there and try to win this thing,” he said.
And so ended a most unusual start to the Masters, which might be as tough as any round Woods plays this week.
It was a solid start in the process of restoring his image. Woods clearly was intent on mingling more with the fans than he did before the sex scandal. First, he putted a couple of balls to some kids watching alongside the 18th green. Then, a real surprise: he stopped to sign autographs while heading to the practice range.
He had not played to the crowd since winning the Australian Masters in Melbourne, where fans saw him only as golf's best player with 82 victories and 14 majors and no rival except history.
His world caved in 12 days later with a car accident outside his home that sent him to the hospital with a busted lip that required five stitches, and a shattered image that might take years to repair.
“A lot has happened in my life over the past five months,” said Woods, who provided a few details and denials in the 47 questions he fielded from reporters who occupied all 207 seats in the media center.
Among the revelations:
Masters (Monday/Woods press conference)
Tiger Woods played before a gallery Monday at Augusta National for the first time since Nov. 15. He teed off about 8 a.m. with Fred Couples.
• He ruptured the Achilles’ tendon in his right leg in December 2008, two months before his return from knee surgery. Woods said he was taking Vicodin for that and his left knee.
• He began taking Ambien after his father died because he was having trouble sleeping.
• He was sent to an Orlando, Fla., hospital after his Nov. 27 accident for a sore neck and a cut lip.
• He denied ever taking human growth hormone, performance-enhancing drugs or “any illegal drug.” He said he sought out Canadian doctor Anthony Galea for “blood spinning” because of his treatment on other athletes. Galea's assistant was caught bringing HGH and other substances into the United States last year.
Woods said the government has contacted him about his association with Galea and that he would cooperate fully, “but as of right now, they have not asked for my time.”
Woods also said he would tone down his temper – and his celebrations – on the course.
In his last tournament, he flipped his driver to the turf after an errant tee shot, and the club bounced into and over the gallery. Woods retrieved the club without concern or apology.
“I'm actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play,” Woods said. “But then again, when I'm not as hot, I'm not going to be as exuberant, either. 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.”
He was calm Monday. He had a scraggly goatee – a look he has sported occasionally during his career, but rarely at a major – and smiled and made eye contact with the gallery.
Woods walked into his press conference with a comfortable smile and hugged Ronald Townsend, the first black member at Augusta National.
But he was not comfortable at the start.
He swallowed hard to steady his voice and meant to open his comments by noting he had played his practice round with Fred Couples. But instead he said “Craig” – confusing Couples with Craig Heatley, the Masters media chairman running the press conference.
And as he has done in statements on his Web site, a public apology at PGA Tour headquarters Feb. 19 and a pair of five-minute TV interviews two weeks ago, Woods owned up to his mistakes.
Not everyone was satisfied.
Even as he spoke, adult film star Josyln James – one of more than a dozen women who claims to have had affairs with Woods, watched his news conference with attorney Gloria Allred and a room full of reporters and TV cameras in New York.
Last month, James released what she said was a series of tawdry text messages from Woods that spelled out their trysts.
“I think he's still a big, fat liar,” James said. She has asked for an apology from Woods, saying he was not truthful during their three-year relationship.
How could Woods, renowned for discipline and control, have allowed himself to leave so much evidence that can find its way into the tabloids and on the Internet. And did part of him want to get caught in such a mess?
It was one of several times Woods did not offer a direct answer.
“I don't know,” he said. “All I know is I acted just terribly, poorly, made just incredibly bad decisions, and decisions that have hurt so many people close to me. That's enough.”
Woods did not say what kind of treatment he received during 45 days of therapy – “That's personal, thank you, – but said the toughest part was being away from home for son Charlie's first birthday on Feb. 8.
“And that hurts – that hurts a lot,” Woods said. “I vowed I would never miss another one after that. I can't go back to where I was. I want to be a part of my son's life and my daughter's life going forward and I missed his first birthday. That was very hard that day and something I regret, and I probably will for the rest of my life.”
Woods picked a good playing partner Monday. Couples is among the most popular players in golf with his easygoing style, and he drew most of the applause. The gallery grew in size with every hole, and fans filled an area the size of the outfield at Amen Corner, a scene typical of the final round Sunday.
“He made a blunder for a while,” Couples said. “I think he was happy to be out there. I never felt like there was going to be a problem. This tournament is great, and it's better because Tiger is here. They can't touch him and feel him, but they can yell for him. That's what they did for four hours. It was fun to see.”
Jim Furyk, a close friend of Woods on the PGA Tour, joined them on the 13th hole.
“I was happy to see how positive everyone was,” Furyk said. “He got great comments from men, women and children. I felt like he did a good job saying ‘Hello’ to a bunch of people – speaking, talking and being very warm with the crowd.”
Woods said the warmth may chill a bit when Thursday rolls around – this is a major, after all, and he still has a goal of breaking the record of 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus.
Several big-name sponsors dropped Woods, while Procter & Gamble Co.’s Gillette unit distanced itself by no longer including him in its ads. But the company said in a statement Monday that it looks forward to seeing Woods return to the course – and took note of his new facial hair.
“The goatee is part of a well-groomed look,” the razor and shaving cream company said.
John Sweeney, director of sports communication at the University of North Carolina's School of Journalism and Mass Communication, said the news conference did little to help or hurt Woods’ marketability and is unlikely to change the minds of the companies that dropped him, including Accenture and Gatorade.
“He's doing some proper things to repair an incredibly damaged legacy, but it's going to take a couple of years here,” Sweeney said.