Two views of Tiger

In this day and age of polarization, I suppose it is not so unusual for two people to attend the same press conference and emerge with opinions as diverse as this.

After the Tiger Woods conference on Monday, Gary Van Sickle of Sports Illustrated and wrote, “He was conversational. This was a small window into the real Tiger Woods. When all was said and done, there was a sense of relief, certainly a small sense of closure,” and concluded, “It might have been the most important day of his golfing career, and maybe even the most successful.”

Then there was Jay Mariotti of AOL Fanhouse, who wrote, “My conclusion, after sitting in a humid room with 206 other journalists and listening to his orchestrated and often suspicious answers, is that he’s nowhere near a state of believability,” and termed the press conference “thirty-four minutes of wavering and flip-flopping.”

Lest you think that Mariotti is just a cranky guy out on a limb by himself, veteran London Times golf writer John Hopkins was equally harsh and ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski a little more measured but definitely dissatisfied.

As for me, I am more on the Van Sickle side here. Woods won points for not placing any restrictions on the questions instead of coming in and saying, “I’m only going to talk about golf.” He considered every question carefully and remained cordial in the face of what was not exactly a grilling but also was not a bunch of softballs.

I’m not sure that any athlete has raked himself over the coals as much as Woods when it comes to the behavior he is apologizing for. He said he acted terribly, made incredibly bad decisions, deceived a lot of people, he needs to become a better person, and on and on. That’s not easy to tell the world.

Woods’s detractors point to the questions he didn’t answer. He won’t say what kind of therapy he is undergoing. But he has every right to keep that confidential, and why, really, do we need to know? Anyway, given the nature of his transgressions, and the fact that he said at the news conference that he hasn’t been treated for a prescription drug problem, we pretty much do know.

He won’t go into details about what happened the night of his car accident in November. Granted, it was such a strange accident that we really want to know what precipitated it. But do we need to know? By not talking, Woods may very well be protecting his wife, Elin. It may be that he just doesn’t want to make himself look bad. The first motivation is noble, the second is understandable.

I don’t think the “It’s all in the police report,” answer he gave in his five-minute interviews with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi and Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman was a good one, because it’s not all in the police report. His answer on Monday about following the advice of a lawyer was better.

Some of Woods’ detractors criticize him for keeping the same people around him, the ones they call “enablers.” But let’s think this through. What if Woods fired agent Mark Steinberg, caddie Steve Williams, and old friend/Tiger Woods Design president Byron Bell? Wouldn’t that be blaming others for problems that he created? If they did know anything about his indiscretions, it was Woods who got them into the mess in the first place. It would be the height of arrogance for him to fire them because of it. If Steinberg’s bosses at International Management Group think he did anything improper, they could remove him as Woods’ agent. But it wouldn’t be right for Woods to do it.

I don’t want to come across as a Woods apologist. His arrogance and sense of entitlement have been displayed not only off the course, but also on it and around it in his lack of appreciation for fans, his refusal to even try to do anything to reduce his temper tantrums, and more. His decision to hold his staged apology during the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and use PGA Tour facilities, was questionable. (Though his strategy, if that’s what it was, of proceeding in steps, from reading a statement, to doing two time-limit interviews, to a press conference at his first tournament back, did make some sense.)

The issue of being treated by the Canadian doctor Anthony Galea, who is under investigation for possibly giving human growth hormone to athletes, is a tricky one. Woods could have, and should have, addressed this on his website any time between the December 15 New York Times story about Galea and Monday at Augusta National instead of letting it fester.

On Monday he said, as expected, that Dr. Galea performed a blood-spinning treatment on him for his knee and Achilles (a new revelation) injuries, but did not give him HGH. It took a follow-up question for him to answer another key question, why bring Dr. Galea all the way from Canada when there are other doctors who perform the procedure. Because of the comfort level of him having worked with other athletes, Woods said.

The tricky part is that HGH is on the PGA Tour’s banned substance list, but is not tested for. (There remain questions about the validity of HGH testing.) Basically, the only way a player could be caught is if a law enforcement investigation provided sufficient evidence. That’s why it’s significant that the FBI is investigating Galea.

That’s one of the sad things about this Woods scandal. Given his admitted “deceit” and “sense of entitlement” in the matter of fidelity, it’s possible to imagine a scenario where Woods would have used HGH to return from injury faster. The anti-Tiger element (not so much in the media, but in the general public) can take it a step further and think that he used other PEDs before that. I don’t think he used HGH and I would be shocked if he used steroids, but in truth it’s likely that we will never really know for sure.

It comes down to trusting Tiger’s word on HGH. It’s also a matter of trusting his word on appreciating the fans, on his reasons for sounding in February like he wouldn’t return for quite a while and then changing his mind, on working to become a better man, on staring down his demons in therapy, on, basically, everything.

On Monday, everyone heard the same words. Some heard sincerity, some didn’t.

Van Sickle made one comment that both poles in the Woods debate–and everyone in between–can agree with. “Tiger Woods talked the talk on Monday, and it was quite a talk. If he can walk the walk, it’ll be quite a walk.”

In a simple world, all would agree a few months or a year from now whether Woods was walking the walk or not. But it’s not a simple world. Every observer is influenced by his own viewpoint, and actions can be interpreted as differently as can words. People often see exactly what they expect to see.

Will the two sides have come together by the 2011 Masters? Doubtful. But let’s hope they aren’t still 180 degrees apart.

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