Though they are surely running low on buckshot as it relates to this surreal storyline, CBSSports.com senior writer Steve Elling and Augusta Chronicle columnist and golf writer Scott Michaux watched the competing five-minute snippets with the exiled world No. 1 on Sunday and came away with some biting observations in this week's Shotgun Start.
Two questions into his Golf Channel interview on Sunday night, and completely without prompting, Tiger Woods began espousing his new immersion in Buddhism. This is a guy who could make a Green Beret blush with his profane tirades. Thoughts?
ELLING: As any parole board can attest, it's hard to measure what's really in a man's heart, and like the rest of his staggering obstacles, it's going to take time before anybody can determine whether his "return" to Buddhism was borne from spiritual necessity or professional convenience. It seems every time a public figure steps on his own appendage, religion is foisted into the equation, quite possibly as a contrived means of making good with a large segment of the population that believes the Bible or Koran offer the fastest, best path to salvation. It certainly offers a more direct path to public forgiveness, at least to those putting much stock in his awakening. Woods was photographed by a magazine more than a decade ago with a Buddhist string bracelet around a wrist. Ever since, the subject of religion and deities has rarely been broached -- notwithstanding his angry epithets directed heavenward on the golf course. The bracelet is back. By the way, there are five basic precepts of Buddhism, including these three: "I will be conscious and loving in my relationships and shall not give way to lust; I will honor honesty and truth and shall not deceive; I will take care of mind and body and will not be gluttonous or abuse intoxicants." Looks like he whiffed on all three, many times over. But now we can keep score at home going forward, can't we? Like he said, he has to prove it over time.
MICHAUX: It's hard not to be cynical about religion popping up so often when all other positive P.R. is gone to hell. Death row inmates cite it. Michael Vick cites it. Disgraced politicians cite it. It is a cliched prop in these apology sagas and comes across as a desperate ploy when they never much seemed to care about such things before their falls. I tend to consider someone's religious beliefs more of a private matter, which is funny in this case because Tiger is asking for everything else in his life to be kept private but this is what he chooses to share publicly. It seemed as much a part of the uniform as his Nike swooshes. It means more when an athlete holds up his religion before he trips over himself. Guys like Zach Johnson and Bernhard Langer (among others) sometimes get criticized for using their golf platform to mention their religious beliefs. Shouldn't Tiger be subject to the same when he foists his, only when it's convenient to his image rehabilitating? Even if you're agnostic or atheist or Wiccan or whatever, at least you can appreciate the people who practice their religion in good times as well as bad as a sincere part of their being. Certainly more so than wearing it on their wrist only when hitting rock bottom. If Buddhism proves good for Tiger's soul, good for him. He needs something to steer him back down the path of human decency.
In an admission that actually constituted news on some fronts, Woods said his future playing schedule remains up in the air. How was that received?
ELLING: Often with sarcasm, cynicism, suspicion and ridicule -- the new Tiger Slam of 2010. Last weekend, the PGA Tour wasted zero time in jumping on the Woods propaganda wagon by splicing him into a TV commercial shown on NBC Sports, pimping the upcoming Players Championship in May. Nevermind that Woods told the Golf Channel that he has no idea where, or how often, he will play going forward. Either the tour knows otherwise or is being reckless in using him to sell tickets -- and I am wagering on the former. Put it this way: Woods was hammered after his reading-room apology last month because he said he was going back to rehab and needed more time to mend his family fissures, and a week later, he was practicing for days on end. The same allegations of hypocrisy would hold true today, when he says he still has much toxic cleanup left to do in his personal life. If he admits that he plans to play at Quail Hollow, Players, Memorial and the U.S. Open -- his usual stops in the spring -- he's saying that his personal issues are of secondary importance to his professional career. Mind you, he might play them all anyway, but there's no way on earth he's going to say it publicly now. He'll probably just string us along, same as ever. Why does it matter? You know all those never-ending TV spots the tour airs to underscore its charitable endeavors? When tournaments only have a day or two to promote Woods' inclusion in the field, it hurts ticket sales and the corporate skybox bottom line, which directly affects the charity payouts in various tour communities. So, yeah, it matters tremendously where he plays and when he announces it. He has played his cat-and-mouse commitment game, suspicious of those who would use his image and presence to make money that he doesn't directly share, for far too long.
MICHAUX: I hope that doesn't mean we'll have to play this will-he-play speculation game all season. It's fair to grant him some leash in the short term, since we don't know all the particulars of the backstage turmoil of his life. There may be one or two regulars he skips (though we assume the majors won't be among them). But if his long-term planning falls into the same habits of the past, we'll know whether he really has changed. One of the most selfish aspects of his professional life has been his practice of withholding commitments until the deadline. We can all probably predict his future schedule with a 99-percent degree of confidence, but Woods has always liked to play games and keep tournaments from using him in promotions. He needs to change that, for the good of his image and the tour. It's time Tiger started giving back and spreading himself around to events and markets he has ignored until now. And it wouldn't kill him to divulge his schedule for the near future when asked. Other players routinely do it, laying out the general path they intend to play as they lead in to majors. Why can't Woods do the same? Imagine what it would mean for ticket sales if he gave a month's notice to playing a new tournament. And doesn't he need to start winning back some fans and making new ones? We'll see.
Last weekend, ESPN, Golf Channel and CBS all were contacted by the Woods camp and asked if they were interested in interviewing the world No. 1 for a non-negotiable, five-minute interval. Only the latter said no thanks. Who made the right call?
ELLING: Take a look at the URL address above and you can see which network pays the bills around here, but I was strangely comforted by the fact that CBS took a pass, at least partly because of the strictures and embargoes he placed on the interview length and broadcast time slot. ESPN and Golf Channel were hardly acting irresponsibly either, given that Woods had not answered a single, solitary question in nearly four months. Whether they should have agreed to the ground rules is a matter that can be argued, since the nets both let Woods dictate some crucial terms. It would have been tough for CBS to crowbar a short segment into the NCAA basketball coverage or its 60 Minutes slot, too. Five minutes, to many, seems like a slap in the face. Interestingly, nobody has mentioned that NBC mysteriously was not invited to the party. Might it be because the network's venerable Today Show has aired repeated stories and interviews with those involved in the steamy scandal? Or because Dateline NBC aired an hour-long, prime-time special in December titled The Secret Life of Tiger Woods, one of the most unflattering shows ever aired on free TV about a major sports figure? The entire NBC golf crew was 90 miles away in Tampa, broadcasting the Transitions Championship. They could have had somebody in Orlando in a heartbeat. But the Peacock got left at the altar. Then again, maybe they would have passed on being part of the Woods media manipulation, too.
MICHAUX: Every interview we ever conduct is on a timetable at the discretion of the subject -- whether it's stated beforehand or not. Every one. We've all begged lesser golfers for five minutes of their time. What would we not have given for five minutes one-on-one with Tiger Woods even before this scandal? While it sounds like a ridiculous constraint on the surface, five minutes are more valuable than they might seem. It can't possibly cover every base in the case, but I think we all came away impressed with what Golf Channel and ESPN were able to get in their short windows. It would have been nice to have another party heard from since every interviewer brings something unique to the table. Cumulatively, the info gained was about as substantial as you can expect from such a guarded figure. Woods didn't place any restraints on the content of the questions, just the time. There is no journalistic integrity compromised by accepting those terms. As for CBS trying to wedge it into their five-star Sunday lineup of the NCAA tournament followed by 60 Minutes, it's hard to believe a news organization of that caliber couldn't make it happen. 60 Minutes has handled breaking news before, and given the one-day lead time, they surely could have packaged 12 minutes of background on this saga to lead into the five-minute Q&A as a segment on their broadcast. It is the best news show in TV history. They've dealt with deadline pressure before. No offense, but I say bad call.