Friday, March 19, 2010

Tiger opens his own cage

We’ve been waiting for Tiger Woods’ other show to drop for a while now, the one that would more fully define his trajectory back into public life after an infidelity scandal whose spread was almost viral. The first one, of course, was that shaky performance on Feb. 19, almost exactly a month ago in front of family, friends and a broadcast seen around the world.

On Tuesday, we got the rest of that strategy. On his Web site, Tiger Woods announced his return to the world of competitive golf begins on April 8, when he plays, as more or less expected and certainly prayed for, for qualification for the hallowed Masters, at the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.

“The Masters is where I won my first major, and I view this tournament with great respect. After a long and necessary time away from the game, I feel like I'm ready to start my season at Augusta.

“The major championships have always been a special focus in my career and, as a professional, I think Augusta is where I need to be, even though it's been awhile since I last played. ...”

Executives at the PGA and CBS Sports, longtime home of the Masters are salivating at the prospect of what’s already being projected to be the biggest TV audience for a preo golf event in years, and maybe ever. About 19 weeks after the swiftest image meltdown in merchandising history, advertisers are lining up again. And bet on it: the stock market will be very happy the Monday after Tiger makes the cut. You read it here first.

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This is a case of a Tiger opening his own cage. He’s setting the terms of his return to public life and, to some extent, the tone in which at least the first days of that return will be conducted. Implicit in this announcement is the idea that, whether you like it or not, whether you like him or not, Tiger Woods is done with mea culpas, he’s through making apologies, and he’s getting more comfortable with the idea of transmuting apology into gold on the golf course, where it counts. Where it matters.

The Augusta crowd in general, and the traditionalists of the Masters in particular, are likely to rally round Woods, protective of him as one of the green jacket family.

But Tiger’s return next month has as much to do with the calendar itself as any grand event-specific strategy he might be mounting. The Masters was the scene of four of his previous triumphs, four of the most electrifying moments in the game. It makes sense to lead with your strength, especially when the event where you've previously brandished that strength is right around the corner.

The British Open and the U.S. Open are still months away. And of course there’s the little problem of perception. Since his endorsement deals with AT&T and Accenture went away, it’d be a bit of a public-relations challenge to show up and compete at the Accenture Match Play Championship or the AT&T National. All of which makes the Masters the logical first move.

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The Masters brings him back at a venue that’s equal to his place in the game. But Tiger’s storied penchant for control can’t be maintained in the friendly confines of Augusta National forever. Sooner or later, somebody’s gonna lob a verbal grenade he can’t get away from.

Somebody will yell out of a car window and call him back to reality, reminding him that even in a nation besotted by celebrity, a lot of people in America object to him making the beast with two backs with a number of women around the country, none of whom were his wife.

This is when people need to see a new Tiger Woods, not just in his private life, but in his public life too. For all the exposure and endless manicuring of his image, anyone who’s watched Tiger Woods in action on the golf course over the last decade knows they’re looking at a man possessed.

Look at the videos, watch him in the majors: After making a shot, good or bad, Tiger often walks the course with a certain driven aspect, a man barely acknowledging the gallery of sincere well-wishers, a look on his face somewhere between absolute focus and visceral discomfort. He might as well be the Terminator in search of Sarah Conner, with mission prime-directives flashing before his cyborg eyes.

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That crap’s got to change, at least a little. He seems to know this. Implied but not stated in Woods’s recent vow of self-improvement is Tiger being better to everyday people, and not the everyday people he slept with. The golfer has been accused of affecting a haughty, impersonal manner; don’t be surprised if the new Tiger Woods actually works the gallery at the Masters … leaning into the frame of somebody’s digital-camera shot … lingering with one citizen questioner or another … slowing a little bit in his marches down the fairway … starting to reconnect with the public in general by connecting with the people at Augusta in particular.

We’ll see. Rehab of any kind is a process, not an event. Rehabbing from sex is, must be, coming down off a drug like no other.

The other rehabilitation is the one to rescue the public perception of Tiger Woods, and salvage the good will of many people in this country who feel let down, deceived. Especially the kids.

But America being America, few things will help restore Tiger to the public’s good graces like winning. Victory muffles the sound of a multitude of sins. The American redemption song has a lot of verses. Just ask Robert Downey Jr. Ask Paul Reubens (aka Pee-wee Herman). Hell, ask Mickey Rourke. They’ll tell you: Fitzgerald was wrong about second acts.

If they can pull it off, so can Tiger Woods.

Image credits: Tiger Woods top: AP/Charlie Riedel. Tiger Woods logo: © 2010 TigerWoods.com. Tiger Woods and Nick Faldo, 1997 Masters: Stephen Munday/Getty Images. Terminator image from one of the "Terminator" film franchise; Terminator character © 2010 Pacificor. 

1 comment:

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