PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Who was that guy?
He was repentant, humbled, absent any visible shred of ego.
The planet's most infamous sports figure stood before the assembled throng Friday with everything but his trademark hat in hand, klieg lights trained on him as his words were piped around the globe on every major TV network and streamed on many more websites. His voice wavered as he pleaded for forgiveness, begged for absolution.
For the first time, Tiger Woods seemingly succumbed. The emperor had no clothes.
Making his first public comments since the sordid sex scandal precipitated the biggest fall from grace of any public person in the electronic era, Woods spoke for 13 minutes about his path to redemption.
It was an awkward exercise in contrition, admission and submission -- characteristics he had never before displayed to outsiders, on or off the golf course.
"I want to ask for your help," Woods said at the end of the speech. "I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again."
Theatrics aside, that's entirely up to you, pal.
Woods seemed on the verge of choking up at several points during his apology, when he talked about his betrayal of his family, his friends, employees and fans. He even offered a special apology to the parents who had used him as a role model with their kids, only to watch as his statue was toppled by the most sordid sex scandal ever.
Then he was whisked away without answering any questions, off to begin another round of sex rehab, he said, starting Saturday.
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Initial response was exactly what Woods had hoped. He was largely applauded for coming clean, expressing remorse and claiming he was going to do everything within his power as a disciple of Buddha to reincarnate what's left of his reputation.
Take a deep breath, everybody. The rush to condemn and judge the guy during the scandal was fast and furious, for obvious reasons. The details were abhorrent. Everybody needs to downshift before starting on the road to fast forgiveness.
Woods had three months to prepare the speech. For all we know, he didn't write it. Given the subject matter, he didn't exactly break down while testifying, did he?
This was largely an exercise in propaganda, with no journalistic checks and balances or input. For all we know, he prepped for the speech like a witness before taking the stand at a trial.
Woods took great pains to apologize to his wife, Elin. As she apparently told him, his apology in the future will be shaped in how he behaves going forward, not by words.
That goes double for us, Mister Duplicity.
Over the years, Woods has been indifferent to fans, antagonistic to the media and acted like an entitled, overindulged brat. He used some of those same terms to describe his behavior in the extra-marital free-for-all, which was a good sign.
Plenty needs to change beyond pledging to simple monogamy. Everybody will be watching, with a colonoscopy scope, to see if he can live up to his well-scripted words.
"I know, above all, I am the one who needs to change," he said. "I have a lot of work to do."
If Woods is a born-again person, early evidence to support that premise is mixed. After all, based on the way the ground rules of his proclamation speech were set forth -- only invitees and a select group of writers were allowed to attend and Woods only spoke from a prepared text -- he's apparently the same control freak he has always been.
There were snatches of his true character during the monologue, like when he became openly defiant about his perceived invasion of privacy. Midway through the speech it turned into a veritable lecture about the attention the media has shone on his shameful actions and family -- which happened as a direct result of his decision to dive for cover for nearly three months.
Indignant disdain is a far more familiar face for Woods.
It was a fairly impressive performance, staged and scripted, massaged and manicured, or not. It brought to mind an old anecdote from three or four years ago, when Woods spoke about the popularity of his many television commercials. He noted how a particular spot that spoofed Caddyshack had been the most difficult of his career to film, because it required him to act like Carl Spackler.
|Before we pay attention to the man at the curtain, we must be certain his apology was more than just window dressing. (Getty Images)|
The guy has a SAG card, after all, and his entire adult life has played out before cameras, so the smell of greasepaint ain't exactly new to him. Nor, apparently, is the fragrance of disinfectant.
Friday represented Woods' first step toward redemption. First, they bleach, launder and rinse. Perhaps the spin cycle has begun. Whether the stain remains, well, let's be careful before judging that for now. For many, he'll never live this down, and rightly so -- his sordid double life was perhaps the biggest fraud ever perpetuated among the sporting public, financially and culturally.
Given that he lied about his life for years, and considering the platform he presented Friday, there rightly remains a suspicion that we are being played like a 100-yard par-3. America, have you been punked?
As if from the heavens, photographs of a guy who was invisible and unavailable for three months began to fall out of the sky this week, courtesy of Getty Images, which shot and released what amounted to a series of propaganda photos of Woods jogging on Wednesday. On Thursday, more were released of Woods grinning from ear to ear while playing golf.
Smile and say cheese, fans, and I hope you are lactose tolerant. Both sets of photos were choreographed, plain and simple. Aerial shots taken by an unsanctioned celebrity photographer with a telephoto lenses showed Woods' spokesman at the scene of the golf shots, setting up the contrived photo op.
In shots Getty didn't release, Woods is shown seated in an electric cart, a Stanford golf bag on the back. The school must be so proud to be linked to this comprehensive rebranding effort, huh? Others don't seem to mind. Most of the folks in the room in Ponte Vedra Beach on Friday were his professional associates, or what some would call "stakeholders" in the rebuilding of Brand Tiger. The tour, his employees, folks from his foundation, etc.
He apologized to them all. Sounded like he meant it, too.
As millions might have noticed, there were two stationary cameras filming the apology, and halfway through the feed, the one in the back of the room malfunctioned. Thus, viewers were left with a one-sided view of Woods for the final few minutes.
Fitting, wasn't it? The whole exercise was an attempt by his handlers to show only the best side of Woods, that he had reformed and learned some hard lessons about.
"I convinced myself that normal rules did not apply," he said.
Well, they surely apply going forward, and the rest of it is up to him. Think what you want, but I am reserving judgment. Was it poignant or pointless?
He can only earn a measure of absolution with his actions. Just like on the golf course, we have all earned the right to keep score.