The new stoic Tiger Woods has said just about all the right things just about all week. His new and improved behavior has been practically impeccable, except for one slip-up. And it wasn't the moment on the sixth hole Saturday in which he chewed himself out and cursed, in range of a network microphone.
Call that an "oops" moment. Big deal. His real "ugh" moment actually happened twice, on Thursday and Friday, when he compared his comeback with that of Ben Hogan.
Hogan never would have said anything like that. Mostly that was because he never said much of anything about anything. But it also was because he really was the levelheaded person Woods is trying to be, and he painfully knew what he was coming back from.
Hogan's recovery was made into a Hollywood movie: His car was plowed into by a bus on a fog-shrouded Texas road in 1949. The golfer threw himself over his wife to protect her. He barely made it out alive, and he did not seem all that likely to ever play golf again. His left leg was crushed, and his collarbone, pelvis and a rib all were broken. Yet 16 months later, he won the U.S. Open.
He went on to win the Masters in 1951, the year that "Follow the Sun," the film about his comeback, was released.
Woods' recovery is what Hollywood Insider episodes are made of. His absence was self-imposed after he was caught in numerous affairs.
He has sounded earnest and contrite this week, in his first tournament back. But he should have used more sensitivity before he said this about his five-month layoff: "It's very similar to what Hogan went through, coming off the accident. I just couldn't play that much, and when you can't play, you have to concentrate on your practice."
The good part is that Woods will have opportunities to express himself better and to be more patient with his own bad shots. As bleak as his situation seemed when he fell from 8 under to 5 under within four holes Saturday, he is only four shots behind leader Lee Westwood after finishing at 8 under.
He built momentum for Sunday by making a brilliant approach on 18, then sinking a 3-footer for birdie. So there had been no need for the outburst on No. 6, which was more like Tommy Bolt than Hogan.
"I just wanted to put myself in contention, and I did that," Woods said. "At one point I was seven back, so to kind of claw my way back in there where I'm only four back right now, I'm in good shape."
More amazing than Woods' strong play after the 144-day layoff is the way people still talk about Hogan, 13 years after his death.
At breakfast in the clubhouse this week, Gary Player and Raymond Floyd were discussing him, with Player saying how difficult the man had been and Floyd saying how nice Hogan had been to him (Floyd did use clubs made by Hogan's company).
Jack Nicklaus reminisced on Thursday about having been asked to play practice rounds with Hogan, and playing in the Masters with him in 1966. On the CBS telecast yesterday, announcer Ian Baker-Finch described how Hogan played No. 11 at Augusta National.
When you come to think of it, Woods and Hogan have much in common: Golf greatness, unfathomable work ethic, a swing that anyone would love to watch and an inclination to stay aloof from the rest of the guys on tour.
Their comebacks, though, are worlds apart. If he gets the chance to make the comparison again, Woods likely will pass. He is a smart guy, and he has a new respect for second chances.