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The Tiger stock goes up – barely

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As if the Tiger Tidalwave wasn’t enough to engulf the Match Play event and destroy it like a house made of matchsticks, the All-England final came on a day when any right-thinking American had his or her focus honed on the red, white and blue defending national honor against historically evil Canada at the Vancouver Olympic ice hockey rink.

I mean, who wrote this Match Play script: Sir Nick Faldo?

The English boys had a decent little match, yes, and congrats go out to Ian (Not a Sir, Yet) Poulter for becoming the first man in an all-pink outfit to win a PGA Tour event since Doug Sanders, besting Paul Casey in 34 uneventful holes.

But mostly, it felt like a practice round for Monty’s lads come this fall in Wales. Other than the Queen, I don’t know who watched it.

As if that weren’t bad enough, we actually had to hear Faldo say at one point: “I hope they know there’s an English knight watching them.” It would have been a cute little ironic statement, except we know the guy who said it hasn’t a self-deprecating bone in his body.

See, that’s the good thing about America: no knights.

Besides, all anybody wanted to talk about this weekend was Tiger, anyway.

What a thing, that Friday morning “presser” in Florida.

Once upon a time in American culture, JFK and Marilyn in the Oval Office was nobody’s business.

Flash forward a generation or two, and we have a porn star weeping in Gloria Allred’s arms because Tiger made her give up the silver screen in the name of love.

When was the tipping point in this cultural shift toward dirty laundry glasnost? Jimmy Swaggart? Jim Bakker? Bill Clinton? Take your pick. All I know is, Tiger is now on the Mount Rushmore of Embarrassed Public Apologies, and we can debate all day about whether or not he “owed” it to us, or his employees, or his family, or the mailman.

As briefly as I can put it, I’d say as a major sports figure who has derived millions from fan interest in his sport, he “owed” us at least a dialogue on what the heck has been going on as far as golf and his future.

Questions he could be reasonably asked include: Does he still have the desire to chase Jack Nicklaus’ records? Is golf less important to him now? Does he view the game any differently now? Does he think his behavioral issues on the course were in any way related to the “entitled” feeling he spoke of?

These and other questions, I think, are reasonable.

Whether or not he broke out the trapeze and unicycle behind closed doors with Jaimee, Joslyn, Rachel and the girls is pretty much the stuff we don’t need to know about.

That said, if you’re going to judge Tiger on the curve of Embarrassed Public Apologies, as those things go, he did pretty well.

Mind the words “as those things go.”

“Those things” can be unnecessary, or gauche, or woeful for all involved, but since we’re now living in a world where these things happen, where public figures try to save images and earning power with the Embarrassed Public Apology, Tiger did a comprehensive job of eating manure by the shovelful.

He looked beaten, humiliated and disgraced. And Y.E. Yang wasn’t even in the room.

For that – for looking beaten, humiliated and disgraced; for eating manure by the shovelful; and for not pulling an A-Rod and saying his cousin gave him the stuff – I’d say Tiger’s stock ticks slightly up.

Slightly.

Mind, I had a ton of problems with it all, too. The hand-picked audience. The banning of questions. The weird “Elin deserves praise, not blame” part. (Who ever blamed Elin for anything?) The rise in his voice lashing out at the media. That forum was not the time, or place, for Tiger to be indignant about anything.

And he got cuffed around plenty in the court of public opinion afterward. Most everyone I know went Moon Unit Zappa on the Tiger presser and said, roughly: Gag me with a pitching wedge.

Even uber-nice guy Jim Nantz used the words “robotic” and “rehearsed” in his CBS review of Tiger. When Nantz, the world’s kindest man, deigns to give you a gentle backhand, you know it’s a rough go.

Perhaps the biggest reason I say stock “slightly” up is, he appears to be genuine about this indefinite leave from golf. For months now, I’ve been with the conventional wisdom that his ego and drive would never have him miss the Masters in his prime.

Hence, the cynics among us viewed the “indefinite” part of his leave to mean:

I’ll be skipping Torrey Pines, the Match Play and Doral to appease the media jackals, then Arnie and I will be playing dice at the Bay Hill clubhouse bar to prep for Augusta.

But if it’s already late February, and he is re-entering therapy, and he’s talking about “not ruling out this year,” it’s looking like the tuh-na-ment will be sans Tig-uh.

That “WOO HOO!” you just heard came from the camps of Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson.

Either way, Augusta or no Augusta, the world No. 1 gave us a show. Again. It’s what he does.

And for the record, he probably could roll out of the rack tomorrow and hand Poulter or Casey his English flag on a platter.

Scorecard of the week

67-67-70-63 – 21-under 267, first place, Ai Miyazato, Honda PTT LPGA Thailand.

Welcome back, ladies.

Or, as Suzann Pettersen might say: Who asked you, bub?

It was getting a little weird, what with the 2010 calendar marching on, and no ladies golf actually being played. When it was played in Thailand this weekend, it was damn near impossible to find on TV.

The LPGA’s new marketing slogan: Coming soon to a continent near you!

Pettersen is just as happy you didn’t see it. She played road kill to Miyazato’s stunning Sunday 63, capped by Miyazato’s 30 foot chip-in on 18 for birdie. How do you say “drop the hammer” in Japanese?

When Pettersen couldn’t answer and missed a 23-footer for eagle on 18, it was official. She’d blown a six-stroke lead on the final day of the first tournament of the year. Spare her the poetry about all of us being dogged victims of an inexorable fate.

As Pettersen said, there isn’t much you can do when someone drops a 63 on you. After all, don’t the golf poets also say something about how you can’t play defense in this game? I mean, right after the part about inexorable fate.

One tourney in, and we have another Asian-based winner. America has some work to do, especially since Cristie Kerr was the only Yank in the top 10. Michelle Wie finished tie-22; Christina Kim tie-40; and Paula Creamer had to withdraw after one round.

The good news is, the ladies play again next week. The bad news is, it’s in Singapore. Which, if my “Are You Smarter Than the LPGA Commissioner?” geography works out, is actually farther from the continental U.S. than Thailand.

Time to go “Shane” here and shout at the horizon: Ladies golf … come back!

Broadcast moment of the week

“I ask you to find room in your heart to one day believe in me again.” – Tiger Woods, February 19, 2010.

And Jimmy Swaggart said “I have sinned” … and Bill Clinton told us “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” … ah, the legendary lines of shame.

Tiger finished strong. As Embarrassed Public Apologies go, his closing line was pretty much the Lou Gehrig “Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the Earth” of EPAs.

Who wrote Tiger’s words is a matter of strong debate, with the heavy money tilting toward a team of PR flacks. Strangely, though, I was doing my radio show during the Tiger Address, and spent most of the time listening to the words through my headphones, rather than watching his Keanu Reeves-like delivery. And I must say, the words themselves were sometimes weighty.

“I am embarrassed … I have a lot to atone for … I stopped living by the core values I was taught to believe in … I thought only about myself … I felt I was entitled … Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids … Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside yourself causes an unhappy and pointless search … I need to regain my balance …”

A lot of people thought he was just phony baloney. Fair enough. A lot of it was. But the words were sometimes quite well-written. Somebody give those PR flacks a small bonus this month.

Mulligan of the week

Twenty-five inches.

Just an inch over 2 feet is all that prevented Camilo Villegas from defeating Match Play machine Paul Casey and advancing to the final. They’d played 23 holes, it was dark, they were tired … could the lad just make one tiddler, to put it in Casey’s native tongue?

Alas. No.

Villegas somehow missed the short little thing, and had to sleep on the pain all night. As if preordained, he couldn’t make par on the very first hole of the morning, and was relegated to the dreaded third-place match against Sergio Garcia.

The third-place match … how uncool. It’s like being stuck with the geeks playing “Dungeons and Dragons” on a Friday night while the cool kids go to the dance.

At least he won it, beating Sergio, 5 and 4, and netting a cool $600K.

Still, for all of us who have gagged on 2-footers in money matches every weekend, for all of us who looked at 25 inches and thought, “Man, that’s a long way to the hole,” for all of us who have waited for our friends to concede those putts, and never heard the magic words “It’s good” … somebody please give that man a mulligan!

Where do we go from here?

What’s worse: That the tour has struggled to find some sponsors for tour events? Or that they happily accepted sponsorship for the Waste Management Phoenix Open?

I always get a little sentimental when the tour leaves the West Coast Swing. The West Coast Swing, frankly, rules. In fact, it’s my favorite stretch of non-major golf. Anybody who wants to argue, and I’ll have to break out my Federer forehand rally of: Hawaii, Torrey Pines, Riviera and … rushing the net for a smash … Pebble Beach.

Nothing else matches it.

There was a rumor Tiger would announce last week that he was to play in Phoenix. When he was photographed jogging in the most staged photo op since Ryan Seacrest was shot smooching Teri Hatcher, the thought grew: Is he going to tee it up?

Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed. After all, I’ve been to the Phoenix Open, and their party tent called the “Bird’s Nest” features more Tiger-esque temptations than maybe any stop on tour other than the Byron Nelson. Having Tiger make his comeback at Phoenix would be like locking John Daly into Anheuser-Busch HQ and letting him have at it.