Change not likely part of 'new' Tiger

By John Feinstein Illustrations by Mark Anderson
March 29, 2010

I've heard enough.

I do not need to hear another word from Tiger Woods about what happened on the morning of Nov. 27 or anything that has happened in his life since. I don't need to hear about his rehab -- although since he insists on talking about it constantly, it would be nice to know what he's in rehab for -- or about Buddhism, his need to meditate, any bracelets he might choose to wear or what he's learned from this experience.

I'm sick of the explanations. I'm ready for Woods to play some golf. I don't care about what he's done to his wife or his kids or his public image. (OK, I care about his wife and kids, but not his public image.) I think we've all heard enough mea culpas and, personally, I think Tiger's motives in throwing out scraps of information have nothing to do with shame or catharsis or feeling badly about anything other than getting caught.

Look, we all have a pretty good idea what happened Thanksgiving night: His wife confronted him in some way about his serial extra-marital escapades, and he fled the house in a T-shirt, shorts and bare feet clearly in no condition to drive a car. Do we really need to know more than that? No.

The silliest question anyone can ask is, "How has this changed you, Tiger?"

I'll answer that one: Not at all.

He's still an absolute control freak as demonstrated by his first two public appearances since the infamous accident. The Feb. 19 Tiger-and-pony show would have been fall-down funny if it hadn't been so excruciating. It looked like a "Saturday Night Live" skit, Tiger pausing dramatically to check his script and then saying, "I am so sorry," while those in the invited audience -- including his poor mother -- looked as if jumping off a building would be a welcome relief from sitting in that room.

When almost no one outside the Tiger-apologist circle bought into that act, Woods and company turned to America's flack to the fallen, Ari Fleischer. The Fleischer strategy, whether dealing with the war in Iraq, college football's Bowl Championship Series or Mark McGwire, is always the same: Handpick your interviewers, limit access and stay away from specifics. Although the Woods camp made a point of letting it be known March 21, the day he granted interviews to ESPN and Golf Channel, that Fleischer had recused himself, the Tom Rinaldi/Kelly Tilghman sessions had his fingerprints all over them.

Woods and his henchmen picked two TV networks that resonate with sports fans and golf fans and were willing to agree to Tiger's terms -- five minutes on camera; outdoor setting (no doubt to give him an excuse to wear his logoed cap); interview done standing (probably so any Tiger squirming would be less noticeable); and an agreement to embargo the interview until the evening.

Woods was well rehearsed. He continued to "own up" to what he had done. He talked about how "brutal" (one of his favorite words) it was to look into a mirror while going through rehab. And he said this had all happened because he had gotten away from Buddhism and stopped meditating. When Rinaldi or Tilghman tried to hone in on specifics, he fell back on his "that's private" mantra.

If you want to buy any or all of that, fine. My feeling is it really doesn't matter. Tiger Woods is still Tiger Woods, which is why he will still be the world's best golfer when he tees it up again. That doesn't mean he'll win the Masters next week, but it does mean he's going to win a lot more tournaments than anyone else. He's going to be arrogant -- which is part of his greatness on the golf course -- and continue to demand that anything he does away from the golf course be done on his terms. Period.

Maybe, just maybe, he will heed Tom Watson's words and show more respect for the game. Perhaps there will be fewer thrown clubs and profanities, and if we're lucky he might make his caddie behave with more civility to people. Any of that would be -- as Tiger might put it -- "huge."

But there will be no new Tiger Woods. He will still be the best golfer who has ever lived. He will not be anywhere close to the best person who has ever lived. It wasn't true before Nov. 27 -- no matter what his dad or his sponsors tried to tell us -- and it's not true now.