When Tiger Woods announced that he was returning to competitive golf at The Masters, many wondered how Augusta National, a club that prides itself on privacy and decorum, would react to being Ground Zero for the most scandal-ridden tabloid story in more than a decade.
Wednesday night in an address to the media, Masters chairman Billy Payne gave us a hint of what surely went on behind closed doors at the genteel clubhouse. In his opening remarks, unprompted by any question, Payne lit into Woods with the kind of directness and sharpness you never see in golf.
As Yahoo! Sports' Dan Wetzel recounts, the "unprovoked assassination" ran like this:
”It is not simply the degree of [Woods’] conduct that is so egregious here; it is the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more importantly, our kids and our grandkids," Payne said. "Our hero did not live up to the expectations of the role model we saw for our children."
That's putting Woods on a pretty high pedestal and then knocking him down, yes. But this time last year, would anyone have doubted that Woods was a golf hero and a role model?
"Is there a way forward?" Payne said. "I hope yes. I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par; but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change. I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile."
That's getting a bit treacly and schmaltzy there -- what, Woods has to make kids smile now? But the basic point is clear. Tiger Woods is as big as golf gets. And Augusta wouldn't even think of turning him away. But there's more to golf than just throwing your weight around, whether you're the most famous player in the game or the most famous course in the game.
Bottom line, both Woods and Augusta National need each other, and they know that. But there's a difference in degree; right now, Woods needs Augusta far more than the other way around. For once, Woods isn't dealing from a position of strength. So you can bet he'll do whatever he needs to do -- even kissing babies along the fairway -- to get back on top.
Photos: Tiger Woods at Augusta