On Monday afternoon, a goateed Tiger Woods faced more than 200 members of the media for his first public press conference since the Thanksgiving night accident that blew the lid off his scandalous secret life. (Photos: View a slideshow of Tiger Woods at Augusta.)
There were no restrictions on topics — well, no spoken restrictions. Augusta National has a way of making its genteel voice heard louder than any scream. A reporter who tried to get too cutesy, a reporter who tried to embarrass Tiger or Augusta National — well, the Powers That Be at Augusta "would not look favorably," as their parlance goes, on such a transgression.
And the result was a model of press conference decorum. Woods' demeanor was relaxed, confident, at ease. He was far more smooth than in his previous public appearances, and he no doubt won back many critics. That smile there at right? That's a pretty good snapshot of how the entire press conference went. There was honesty, light humor, and a sense of respect for both the game and the process.
Woods led off with a short opening statement in which he thanked the fans for his warm welcome, and noted how excited he was to be back playing golf. From there, 34 minutes of questions began.
To their credit, the media fired away from the word go. And to his credit, Woods understood the need to ask the questions, even if he didn't answer all of them.
The very first question was about the night of the accident and why Woods failed to disclose any more information than he did to the police and to the press. His reply? "I did everything to the letter of the law." He gave the extent of his injuries — "a busted-up lip and a sore neck" — but didn't disclose their source or any further information.
Soon afterward, he was also asked about his connection to Dr. Anthony Galea and any potential use of performance-enhancing drugs. He answered definitively, noting that while he had interaction with Galea, "he never gave me HGH (human growth hormone) or PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs)," he said. "I've never taken any illegal drug in my life." The extent of their relationship, Woods said, was in helping treat Woods' injured knee in 2008 and 2009.
From there, the questions touched on his behavior on the course, his time in rehab and his respect for the game. It was 15 minutes before Woods got the first legitimate softball question: "How is your knee?"
Further questions focused on how he was able to lead a secret life (answer: not without regret) and his time in rehab. (See Devil Ball's live blog of the entire press conference right here.) Woods also specifically thanked and expressed his appreciation to his fellow players, who have had to bear the brunt of the media and fan crush since his absence.
We also got a look at the tragic — if that's not too strong a word — aspect of this entire case. He pointed out that the timing of his rehab forced him to miss his son's first birthday. You'd have to be a cold person indeed not to be touched by that.
Flashing a little of the classic Woods confidence, he said he's in Augusta for one reason only: he expects to take home his fifth green jacket. "I'm going to try to go out and win this thing," he smiled, and after this press conference, he's even more of a favorite than he was before.
However, if he does win the Masters, his wife Elin won't be in attendance. Woods indicated that she was not in Augusta, and didn't elaborate. Given all that's happened — plus the fact that Woods decried how she and their children had been hounded by tabloid press for the last five months — that's not particularly surprising, and shouldn't be read as any clue to their relationship in and of itself.
The only question he completely shot down had to do with the presence of Ambien in his system on the night of the crash. He simply noted that he was fined $164 by the police, and that was that.
Woods left with his short, customary "thanks, guys" to the media, and initial reaction seems to be that Woods did a fine job. And, once again, Woods shows that underestimating him is never a good idea.
Provided Woods is telling the truth about everything he said — and let's give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is — this was a huge step for Woods in his campaign to rehabilitate himself and his image. Today, he went a long way toward closing the door on the sordid side of his life.
Next up: golf. At long last.