ORLANDO -- Just drove past the Albertson's market that Tiger Woods mentioned in his ESPN radio appearance the other day and it brought back a super, stupor highway of memories.
A year ago this week -- that's when I made my first and only purchase of a National Enquirer, hot off the tabloid press, to read the cover expose about Woods' trip to Australia that helped precipitate his epic fall from grace.
It was Grace, right? Maybe it was Rachel, Joslyn, Mindy or Cori. Like his many professional wins, his myriad personal losses tend to blur. Woods went Down, Under, and so did his jarringly false persona.
|Selected mileposts in the past year for Tiger Woods:|
|Nov. 27, 2009: Tiger Woods suffers injuries in a car accident while leaving his home. Initial reports suggest Woods is in serious condition.|
|Dec. 1: Florida Highway Patrol issues Woods a traffic citation for careless driving.|
|Dec. 2: Jaimee Grubbs says she had an affair with the golfer. Woods responds, saying "I have let my family down, and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart." In subsequent weeks, many more women claim to have had an affair with Woods.|
|Dec. 11: Woods announces he will take an indefinite leave from golf.|
|Jan. 21, 2010: Reports surface of Woods checking into a rehabilitation clinic in Hattiesburg, Miss.|
|Feb. 19: Woods makes his first public appearance since the accident. He says he is undergoing therapy, but does not address plans to return to golf.|
|March 16: Woods announces he will return to golf at the Masters.|
|April 8-12: At The Masters, Woods cards a 68 in his first round of 2010. He finishes T4, five strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson.|
|June 20: Woods finishes T4 at the U.S. Open, three strokes behind champion Graeme McDowell.|
|July 21: At St. Andrews, Woods finishes the British Open tied for 23rd with a 3-under 285.|
|Aug. 8: Woods finishes dead last (78th) at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, an event he won three times prior. A week later, he ties for 28th at the PGA Championship with a 2-under 286.|
|Aug. 23: Lawyers for Woods and ex-wife Elin Nordegren announce the couple's divorce is final.|
|Sept. 12: Woods' PGA Tour season ends with a 1-under-283 at the BMW Championship. He fails to advance in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Woods finishes the 2010 campaign his no wins and two top-10 finishes in 12 starts.|
|Oct. 31: Lee Westwood takes over the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Ranking, bumping Woods from a spot he held for the last five years.|
After a year of enduring the raft of incessant and shocking Tiger-related news, I'd finally blacked it all out more effectively than if I had taken a handful of Ambien and slammed my head into a hardwood tree. Then Woods popped up like a virus all over every known form of media last week: electronic, printed and social.
The timing is precisely why his transparent public-relations barrage feels all wrong. The same guy who hid for months rather than face the music has staged a contrived, pre-emptive, spin-control campaign designed to take our collective dirty minds off the most famous confluence of fame and fire hydrant in history.
Gee, you'd almost think that an embarrassing anniversary is approaching on Thanksgiving night, or that he's hosting a nationally televised golf tournament next week in suburban Los Angeles. What, you don't believe in coincidences, either?
Hello, err-waves, it's me, Tiger.
From invisible to indefatigable, Woods first cranked up a Twitter account so he could dole out tiny bits of tid. Nike last week issued invitations to select media to meet with Woods about a new equipment line. His management company called ESPN and arranged a 27-minute interview on a popular radio/television show, specifying the topics he would not discuss. An op/ed piece in Newsweek appeared under his byline. On Tuesday, he e-mailed a lengthy personal blog item to followers of his website.
Where's Oprah? We're being spun like cotton candy and Donald Trump's hair -- at a time when most of us are so sick of the Woods story, grandma's Holiday Cranberry Surprise sounds pretty appealing.
Like my Albertson's drive-by, his media assault rekindled nothing but bad jokes and rolling eyeballs. Woods skirted the tough questions, issued the same platitudes about fatherhood and responsibility, spoke in a monotone and shed precious little light on anything new. Whether his talk of recovery and redemption was heartfelt -- and it quite possibly was -- it's way too soon to tell.
Regardless, please make it go away.
If there's something most of us have in common, no matter where we are camped beside the Tiger fan fence, it's that the Affairs d'Eldrick have gotten downright stupefying, and his PR assault is only making it worse. Too bad he ran over that hydrant, because we could use a fire hose to blast away the dirt all over again. The damage of the past 12 months was personal, professional, collateral and comprehensive -- and it's going to leave a mark. Now was no time for a refresher course.
Surely, scandal fatigue first began months ago, and by the time a pair of revealing books were released in June, including the critically acclaimed and insightful Unplayable, which detailed Woods' 2009 travails before the crash, the last things folks wanted was to root around in more muck and mire. Good book, repelling subject.
Gradually, the focus began to turn back toward his golf, which was perhaps even more shaky than his personal life. He bottomed out, went an entire year without winning for the first time since before puberty, got fired by his coach and blew chances at major-championship venues where he'd previously coasted to easy wins. Here's a sentence that had never before been written -- Woods didn't truly contend on a single Sunday.
Thus, minus the captain, the ship foundered. PGA Tour television ratings, according to a hair-raising Reuters report last week, skidded by 21 percent during weekend network rounds, which doesn't bode well for upcoming rights-fee negotiations. With Woods' star in descent, the starched-white reputation of golf took a hit. Attendance visibly dropped at several PGA Tour locales, and Woods' personal gallery thinned as more than a few suck-ups and sycophants bailed.
No question, given the levels of betrayal expressed by many, some won't return, but it has often and rightly been said that we're a nation that forgives. Mike Vick, Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant and Ray Lewis, who was linked to a double homicide nobody seems to recall, are the personification of a certain subset of that notion.
It's not so much that we forgive, but forget.
|The last time Tiger Woods struck a winning pose was more than 53 weeks ago. (Getty Images)|
Woods' uncharacteristic appearance on the Internet, in national magazines and on cable TV chat shows last week brought his troubles bubbling back to the surface, and opinions raged as ever before. His mood on the ESPN show was variously described as subdued or humbled to completely insincere. In other words, the fan base remains acutely divided, and he just drop-kicked the hornet's nest again.
It was all pointless. Like his 6-under run over the closing six holes at the Aussie Masters earlier this month, it was too little, too late. In fact, if his scandal aftermath hadn't been absolutely butchered by his management at IMG, the media barrage of last week is a path Woods should have taken 10 or 11 months ago. Where was all this humility in January when the damage needed to be controlled and contrition offered?
After his decade of decadence, Woods tried mightily in 2010 to refashion his rep, with mixed results. His general on-course demeanor and body language improved, but the NC-17 language didn't. He smiled more often, he signed a handful of autographs and posed for an occasional photo with a kid. Fans, seemingly slack-jawed at being in such close proximity to celebrity, generally gave him a free pass verbally.
Woods had a hand in that reaction, to be sure, beyond his mere deportment. All year, whether he was being heckled or not, he gushed about his reception at various locales, using reverse psychology to defang potential catcalls. After all, if an angry fan hears about how well Woods is being treated by everybody else, he's less likely to pop off. That's straight from the Mob Mentality 101 course syllabus. From that standpoint, his camp got it right.
But starting with taunting airplane banners at the Masters, Woods hardly skated unscathed. One telling anecdote came in midseason, when a male in the gallery taunted him and was promptly shushed by others along the ropes. The caustic fan laughed and said aloud, "What, do you really want this dirtbag to break Jack's records?"
Maybe, maybe not. But the guy missed a crucial point. The way he's playing right now, the only guy Tiger's emulating at the moment is Jack Squat. The TV ratings and fan base will swell only when Woods starts contending, because a legion will watch to root or hoot, depending on their feelings about the guy.
But at least they'll be watching.
That's the truly crucial part of his revival-tent raising, if it ever happens, not more evasive answers about what happened when the Keystone Kops responded to the 911 call a year ago. His non-answers beg more questions, so why listen? His clubs represent his salvation at this point, not any media manipulation.
After he bobbed and weaved his way through his session with Mike & Mike on ESPN, Woods tweeted that "the best part about phone interviews is getting to wear shorts." Given his predilections, I immediately thought, "Whose had he gotten into?"
Until he changes his personal context -- by winning a tournament -- that remains a default reaction. Well, for some of us.
A year ago this week, Woods drove into a tree and was lying in the street fronting his house, mumbling incoherently. Then he disappeared for three months. Too bad he didn't do the latter this holiday season, because by now, we know the unsettling story far too well.
As his Newsweek effort said, "everyone has probably heard more than they ever wanted to about my private life."
Correct. No additional regurgitation, even in a vague sense, was required. So kindly halt the pop-psychology references about the healing process and finding life's proper balance. Those are terms we have no way of knowing whether he'll ever actually apply.
Maybe Woods ought to harken back to the trite phrases he has applied a million times elsewhere as a means of fixing this year-long mess.
It's all right there in front of you. ... It is what it is.
The fastest way to redemption? A guy who has never been a gushing fount of information, Woods actually needs to throttle it back a bit.
Less spinning, more winning.