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Undercover Tour Pro: Is There A New Tiger Versus An Old Tiger?

“I’m not buying that he’s ‘changed.’ ”

Photo illustration by John Ueland

This past season much was made about Tiger Woods being a changed person. That this latest comeback, from passed out behind the wheel in post-surgical hell to nearly winning majors, has given him "a new lease on life." It seems all the announcers and media have latched on to this narrative. Friendlier, warmer, tastes great and less filling. Well, I think it's a bunch of bull.

Sure, there have been divergences. The old Tiger didn't walk down the range saying hello to rookies, like I saw him do at Tampa. The old Tiger didn't wait around the last green to congratulate the guy who beat him, like he did for Brooks in St. Louis. He wouldn't fight back tears like he did at East Lake.

Certainly, the prospect of never competing again felt scarily real to him at one point. And finally having one's family life in order years after a messy divorce must add perspective. Still, I'm not buying that he's "changed." Because what most people don't know is, Tiger's always been a good guy.

Whatever a man has done or not done in his private life is another matter. All I know is, there are few golfers better to sit down with for lunch and shoot the breeze than Tiger, and it's been that way ever since I was a rookie. In a one-on-one setting, he's a completely different person than the one the world sees in interviews.

Most people have no idea how funny Tiger is. He has a very dry, almost British sense of humor, and is one of the few American players I know who can really mix it up with the Europeans. Several times it's taken me four or five seconds to realize Tiger has just made fun of me, usually some contrived way of inferring I'm a slob, delivered deadpan. He also comes up with clever nicknames for players. I won't reveal mine, but as an example, Tiger's the guy who coined "Rainman" for Bryson DeChambeau. Just the right touch of mocking yet celebratory.

But Tiger can also keep it simple. He's a guy's guy, loving crude jokes just as much as smart ones. One year at the Players, I'm on the practice putting green and a ball hits my shoe. I look up and see Tiger, 40 feet away, grinning. Bam, another ball smacks my shoe. We're all about to go play for millions of dollars, and he's clowning like a 10-year-old.

I picked up his balls and threw them in the water. He laughed. He likes it when guys give the business right back to him. Granted, we all laugh quicker when the king makes jokes. A player ranked 200th in the world who talks trash would get labeled an asshole. Though as much as Tiger likes to trade insults, he'll also help you if he can. I know of a couple foreign-born players he helped to obtain their green cards.

I couldn't imagine being him. The moment the locker-room door swings open, his world changes. At the first FedEx Cup event in New Jersey, there must've been 30 people clamoring to snap his picture at the back entrance of the clubhouse, which is a restricted area. I'm thinking, Haven't you people seen someone get into a car before? What are you going to do with a crappy photo like that on your phone, anyway?

For so long he was put on a pedestal by fans and the corporations that sponsored him. Obviously, he's been taken down a few pegs by his public travails. So now we hear all this talk that this humbling experience has changed him. But that's not how I and a lot of other players see it. Tiger just finally feels comfortable showing the person he's always been. —With Max Adler