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SportsColumnistsMark Herrmann

Herrmann: Tiger, upset with himself, shows he's back on track

Tiger Woods lines a putt during the final

Tiger Woods lines a putt during the final round of the Masters. (April 11, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

AUGUSTA, Ga.

Tiger Woods was too disappointed to appreciate it, but the disappointment itself was his best sign. It was something normal. It pointed out that Woods did not get what he wanted out of the Masters but that he got what he needed.

Anyone who was pulling for Woods could say hooray for that glum look through the first six holes, that outburst after a bad tee shot on No. 13, that sarcastic "big deal" wave at the ball when he made a birdie on No. 18 and that response after it was all over:

"I finished fourth. That's not what I wanted," he said. "I wanted to win the tournament."

He had said similar things after the previous four Masters, before his SUV crashed and his reputation collapsed. That he was sullen like the old days was a mark of progress as he tries to get his life and marriage back in order after the sex scandal that made worldwide news.

What Woods needed to do this week was change the conversation, and he did it.

On Monday, he tentatively stepped back into the public square. He answered questions about his behavior. He apologized again. He vowed to be a better person.

By last night, the talk was all about how he didn't putt so well on the front nine, how his eagle on No. 7 was nice but occurred too late for a serious run at Masters champion Phil Mickelson, his fiercest rival.

Normal stuff.

How society will or should view him is a matter for every person to answer individually. It does Woods no good to sit around and worry about it.

His play this week was reminiscent of a scene in the movie "The Mission." Robert DeNiro's character, a missionary priest, does penance for a past crime by tying a rope around his waist and attaching a bunch of metal objects to the rope. With every step he takes, he tows those metal objects to remind him of his past.

Finally, as he and others are trudging up a hill, his superior cuts the rope and lets the objects go - effectively saying, "The past is gone."

At least on the golf course, Woods doesn't have to drag around his heavy personal baggage. He proved he can play a golf tournament without it turning into Armageddon.

Considering he had not played in 144 days, he did all right. He just wasn't ready to win a major.

Sometimes he lost shots to the left, sometimes to the right. He didn't make enough long putts. He lost focus on 14, missing a 2-footer for par after he missed a 6-footer for birdie.

"I didn't hit the ball very good on the weekend, didn't putt well yesterday," he said after shooting 3-under-par 69 to finish 11 under for the Masters, five shots behind Mickelson. "It's tough to play . . . when you don't know which way it's going to go."

He had promised to be less demonstrative, good and bad, but he did get upset now and then.

"I think people are making way too much of a big deal of this thing," he said. "I hit a big snipe off the first hole and I don't know how people can think I should be happy about that."

That is the sort of thing he will have to live with. He has become more of a celebrity than a golfer, and our culture loves to follow the lives of celebrities. Everything he does or says will be scrutinized and analyzed, maybe for as long as he lives.

But he can get on with his life much better if he can play golf. He can do that much more easily from now on, because he came to play this week.

New York Sports