In the latest and best performance on his apology tour, Tiger Woods vowed to be more in control of his emotions and impulses. Score it a birdie after the double bogey of that public apology and par of his five-minute interviews. Most important for him is that now he has a chance to control his own story.
Once he starts playing golf, watch out. When he plays, as he did in a harmless practice round at Augusta National Monday and will do in the first round of the Masters Thursday, he gets to change the subject. He stops being a sitting duck for the next juicy tidbit.
As University of Denver professor Mark Aoyagi said in Sunday's Newsday, it now becomes a story about golf, not about sex. And when the topic is golf, Woods is in command.
Woods did fine Monday in his first news conference since his scandal spilled out of the street in front of his home and spread through the entertainment, tabloid and hard news media. He wasn't dramatic or all that compelling, but he did answer the questions and he did have a blend of contrition, poise and optimism. On the mea culpa scale, it was a major step up from the February public statement that had all the aplomb of a hostage tape.
He still never has said exactly what happened late Thanksgiving night, such as to why exactly he needed those five stitches on his lip or why he was in such a hurry to get away that he didn't bother to put on a pair of sandals. But it was worth noting that after the news conference Monday, Tiger wasn't among the trending topics on Twitter. You could make a case that the public is Tigered-out, scandal-wise. They are more interested in seeing how he plays.
People couldn't take their eyes off him Monday. The gallery was huge and fairly quiet as he walked along with Fred Couples and, for the final five holes, Jim Furyk. Cameras are allowed at Augusta National during practice rounds and just about everybody was trying to get a shot of Woods.
"I was expecting it to be positive,'' Furyk said, "and it was probably even better than I expected."
Woods didn't play great. He occasionally reloaded, hitting a second shot after the gallery let out a quiet "ooooh" when he hooked one, as he did with his first tee shot, or put one in the water, as he did with his second shot on No. 13. He was a little rusty and probably more than a little nervous. For a change, he cared plenty about what was going on outside the ropes.
When someone in the crowd on No. 2 said, "Great day for golf," Woods - who usually ignores anything not involved with his next shot - quickly replied, "That it is." He tipped his cap often to the polite (but not thunderous) applause. When the crowd near the par-3 16th clamored for him to try to skip a ball off the water, a pre-Masters custom, he obliged, arranging for Couples and Furyk to take simultaneous swings. All three balls reached dry land.
"I tell you what, the galleries couldn't be nicer," Woods said.
Someone mentioned to Furyk that it wasn't the typically boisterous Tiger throng. "I felt a lot of people reached out to say hello . . . men, women, kids," Furyk said, acknowledging that it wasn't quite a typical practice round among friends. "I didn't tease him as much as normal. I'll wait 'til the second time."
Woods probably never will have the same stature he used to have, which is not a bad thing. Excessive praise wasn't healthy for him. But the more he plays, the more he will be seen as a golfer, not just a guy who's sorry.