We're close, so close to when we can talk about Tiger Woods playing golf once again. But before he tees it up on the first hole at Augusta, Tiger will have to face the assembled media for the standard pre-Masters press conference. These press conferences tend to be fairly standard, unsurprising affairs — no pun intended — which is exactly what Tiger and his handlers want. The moderator picks the questions, focusing on known journalists (i.e. the type who understand what they're risking by asking an embarrassing question) while Tiger specializes in providing an answer that looks and sounds as sumptuous as a Sunday buffet but has all the depth of watery oatmeal.
Monday's press conference will be at least slightly different, for any number of reasons. The conspiracy theorists are already out in force — Tiger's doing this on Monday to take away from baseball's Opening Day / the NCAA's championship game! — but my guess is that he just wants to rip off the Band-Aid and get this over with as soon as possible. (For minute-by-minute updates, we'll be running a liveblog of the press conference right here.)
It's customary for those atop the leaderboard to visit the Augusta press room, and I expect we'll see Tiger doing that if he plays well enough later in the week, but in that setting it will be easy enough to go golf-questions only. (It's also traditional for golfers to chat with media under the oak in back of the Augusta National clubhouse after a round, but I'm thinking you'll see Tiger uproot that oak and add it to his golf bag before that happens.)
But for now, there's no golf to discuss just yet. So what will this conference be like? Given Woods' history, we can hazard a pretty accurate guess.
This time around, Tiger can't avoid the embarrassing questions. And even members of the golf media who avoided talking about the Woods situation for many weeks may be asking such questions, because Tiger pulled the PR equivalent of swinging a driver into his own ankle. He stayed silent for weeks on end, allowing the tabloids to control the story and leaving the golf media to sort through the sordid wreckage.
Then, when he actually decided that he needed the golf media, he treated them like the hired help. (True, it's occasionally tough to tell the difference.) His actions at his Feb. 19 press statement — sequestering most media, allowing no questions — finally spurred golf writers to action, and many boycotted his press conference. He only stirred the pot further by granting just five minutes to ESPN and The Golf Channel a few weeks later.
Tiger apparently fell victim to a common failure of perception in this case — the inability to distinguish between the tabloid media and legitimate journalistic outlets. Had he taken his case to more responsible media earlier in this whole mess, he could have done a far better job of controlling the story. But he didn't, and now his name is shorthand for a joke.
And thus, he faces a media far less sympathetic than it could have been. There will be many who are tired of him jerking them around, just as there are many fans who feel betrayed and disappointed by Tiger. So you can expect some pointed questions along the lines of "How can we believe you now?" You can also expect the softballs like "How's your golf game?" and "How happy will you be to get into a tournament again?" The moderators know which reporters will ask those questions, and will be going to them throughout the course of the conference, like bells at the end of boxing rounds, to give Tiger a chance to recoup and gather his thoughts.
What you won't see are goofy "Tiger, did you go the full 18?" and "Will you ever visit a Perkins again?" questions. This is Augusta, and the Powers That Be won't let in the types of journalists who would ask those questions. They're coming somewhere down the line, but odds are they won't come here.
Here's one thing you can take to the bank, though: Tiger will end this as quick as he can. The faster he can get through this and back to the golf course, the happier he — and, let's be honest, most of us — will be.