Jay Busbee

Kelly Tilghman talks with Devil Ball about the Woods interview

Jay Busbee
Devil Ball Golf

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On Sunday afternoon, Kelly Tilghman became one of the first journalists to interview Tiger Woods in the wake of the scandal that has enveloped the golf world. A few hours after the interview aired, she spoke with Yahoo! Sports about the circumstances behind the interview, her perception of Woods, and her belief in his sincerity.

The interview came together in a hurry, with Tilghman learning on Saturday afternoon that she'd be flying to Orlando on Sunday to interview Woods. The rules of the interview were as follows: no restriction on content, but heavy restriction on time -- just five minutes. (The final interview ran closer to six.) With that kind of time constraint, a journalist has to make certain decisions, in some cases on the fly.

"The list of topics to cover -- if I had an hour, I probably couldn't get through the list of questions I had," Tilghman said. "Unfortunately, in a five-minute span, you basically have to come up with the questions that you hope will satisfy the majority of the public."

And even asking an uncomfortable or difficult questions is no guarantee that you'll get the answer you want. "Ideally, you'd ask one question, he'd answer it, and you move on to the next question. But that's not how it worked," she said. "You also have to account for how long the answers will be, and how revealing he'll be. You can't go in there saying, 'I'll ask these five questions,' or 'I'll ask these 10 questions.' You don't know how it's going to flex based on how he answers."

For instance, consider this particular exchange from the interview:

KT: America was concerned when the world's greatest golfer was lying on the ground with no shoes at 2:30 in the morning, bleeding, what happened that night?

TW: It's all in the police report, they investigated it and they have it on public record; there's a lot of stuff between Elin and I that will remain private and that's about it.

KT: How did you crash the car?

TW: I wasn't going very fast, but unfortunately, I hit a few things.

You'll note that nowhere in there does he come anywhere close to answering the question, not even on direct followup. "I knew those details would not come easily, if they came at all," Tilghman said. In other words, you run the risk of using up your allotted time trying to chase down one line of questioning.

"He took the questions and he answered them the way he wanted to. I believe that he will keep the truth of what happened [the night of the accident] close to him for the rest of his life. He's never been one to give up much to the public throughout his 15-year career, and I don't expect him to now."

Tilghman has interviewed him through much of career -- they are familiar enough with one another that Woods called Tilghman "Kel" at the end of the interview -- and as such, she could distinguish between the Woods of today and the Woods of 2009 and before.

"He just came across as a guy who's been through a lot," she said. "He had a weariness about him, but also excitement about coming back to golf. On the personal side, he was very gentle and had a soft touch to his words, but on the golf side there was a fire to him." It's the return of that drive, that anxiousness to compete, Tilghman believes, that has brought Woods out of hiding to play in Augusta next month. Along the way, though, he'll face plenty of questions, and plenty of doubt.

Indeed, all the mea culpas in the world don't matter if he doesn't take the time to rehabilitate his image. Will Woods be able to regain even a shard of the prominence that he had prior to the revelations? Tilghman believes so.

"He was able to reach the highest level of his sport, of all sports, because of his focus, his discipline, his ability to follow through on a mission," she said. "If he can bring that same kind of focus and dedication, absolutely, I believe he can come back."

This was Woods' first interview on the subject of his absence, but it surely won't be his last. "Tiger Woods wants to start talking about this," Tilghman said. "He's incredibly sorry, and he's seen the error of his ways. He knows that he's only scratched the surface of what he needs to do to set things right."

The complete transcript of the Woods interview follows.

KT: Tiger, you've been a master of control your entire life, how did things get so out of control?

TW: Going against your core values, losing sight of it. I quit meditating, I quit being a Buddhist, and my life changed upside down. I felt entitled, which I had never felt before. Consequently, I hurt so many people by my own reckless attitude and behavior.

KT: Were there moments you thought you should stop, but didn't?

TW: Yeah, I tried to stop and I couldn't stop. It was just, it was horrific.

KT: For a man who's so disciplined physically and psychologically, why couldn't you say no?

TW: I don't know, now I know. It's part of what I learned in treatment, being there for 45 days you learn a lot. You strip away the denial, the rationalization and you come to the truth and the truth is very painful at times and to stare at yourself and look at the person you've become ... you become disgusted.

KT: The Masters is a demanding stage on its own, let alone for a return of this magnitude, how do you know you're mentally prepared for this?

TW: I'm excited to get back and play. I miss the game. I miss playing, I miss competing. I wasn't ready to play in Tavistock or play in Bay Hill, I expressed that to Joe [Lewis, Tavistock Group chairman] as well as Arnold [Palmer]. I want to play in these events but I just wasn't ready. I started too late with my preparation. Hank and I are starting to work now and start to get it going.

KT: How do you know you'll be ready for the Masters?

TW: I'm starting to get my feel back. I know how to play the golf course and that helps a lot. I just got to play it.

KT: How will your therapy affect your 2010 schedule? I'm assuming you'll have more in-patient therapy ahead.

TW: Yeah, I will have more treatment, more therapy sessions. As far as my schedule going forward, I don't know what I'm going to do, Kelly. Last year I didn't know because of my knee; it was still uncertain, and this year, with all the things that I've done I don't know what I'll be doing either. That to me is a little bit bothersome, too, in a sense that I don't like not knowing what to do, but what I know I have to do is become a better person and that begins with going to more treatment.

KT: You went from becoming recognized as the greatest golfer in the world to becoming a punch line. How did that make you feel?

TW: It was hurtful, but then again you know what, I did it. I'm the one who did those things and looking back on it now with a more clear head, I get it. I can understand why people will say these things because you know what, it was disgusting behavior. As a person, it's hard to believe that was me, looking back on it now.

KT: America was concerned when the world's greatest golfer was lying on the ground with no shoes at 2:30 in the morning, bleeding, what happened that night?

TW: It's all in the police report, they investigated it and they have it on public record; there's a lot of stuff between Elin and I that will remain private and that's about it.

KT: How did you crash the car?

TW: I wasn't going very fast, but unfortunately, I hit a few things.

KT: It's been reported that members of your team, your inner circle were involved in your misdoings, is it true?

TW: That is not true; it was all me. I'm the one who did it, I'm the one who acted the way I acted, no one knew what was going on. I'm sure if more people would have known in my inner circle they would've, they would've stopped it ... or tried to put a stop to it, but I kept it all to myself.

KT: What is the state of your marriage with Elin right now?

TW: We're working on it and it's a process that will remain private between her and I.

KT: If your father were here today and looked back on these last four months, what would he say to you?

TW: He'd be very disappointed in me. We'd have numerous long talks. That's one of the things I miss, I miss his guidance, wish I could have had his guidance through all this to have him help straighten me up. I know he would've done it.

KT: What do you think he would say?

TW: Can't say it on air but he would've been very direct. Basically said, you need to get your life headed in the right direction again.

KT: For the 12-year-olds and the parents out there who looked at you as a role model, what do you have to say to them to make them believe in you again?

TW: It's going to be over time. It's going to be my actions over time. I'm trying to become a better person each and every day. The proof in the pudding is over time and that's what I'm trying to do. I will continue to do that.

KT: How will you explain this to your children, one day when they're old enough to understand?

TW: I will have that sit-down talk and it won't be just one time, I know that. It will be numerous times and I take full ownership of it, I did it. No one else did; it was just me and that's a responsibility that I will have. I will talk to my kids, for however long they want to talk about it. That is a conversation that will need to be had.

KT: Based on all that has transpired, what do you want your legacy to be when all is said and done?

TW: Just like I wanted before. I felt that golf was a vehicle for me to help a lot of people. My dad had always said something that I never really quite understood until these times. In order to help other people, you first have to learn how to help yourself. Going into a treatment center for 45 days, I learned a lot. I learned how to help myself and that's the way I can help others down the road.

KT: I noticed you're wearing a bracelet, can we see it?

TW: Yeah.

KT: What does it mean?

TW: It's Buddhist, it's for protection and strength and I certainly need that.

KT: When did you start wearing it?

TW: Before I went into treatment.

KT: Will you be wearing it during the Masters?

TW: Absolutely.

KT: For the rest of your life?

TW: Absolutely.

KT: Tiger, thank you.

TW: Thanks, Kel.

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