A new-look Tiger Woods was as impressive as ever

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You can describe some of Tiger Woods' famous golf shots by just a few words. Birdie putt from the back of 17 at Sawgrass. The chip-in on 16 at Augusta. The six-iron in Canada.

All of those will have to take a backseat to the performance Tiger finally gave us all on Monday at Augusta National. In an Easter egg Nike polo and a goatee that only comes out a few times a year, Woods answered any and all questions the media world had for him, and did it as sincere as you can expect from the top athlete in the world.

I'll admit something before I continue. A few weeks ago I wrote a column calling Tiger Woods a joke. It wasn't the most well received column in the world, but it came on the heels of Tiger pulling off two softball interviews with two reporters he calls friends. It wasn't anything more than a PR stunt, and it didn't seem genuine. It was Tiger needing a par to win a major championship and making double-bogey instead.

Monday changed that. He knocked it stiff and tapped in the birdie putt. He didn't need any notes or restrictions or handlers to help him out. He sat, wide-eyed, answering questions from reporters he could call by name, and only tensed up twice. One was when a reporter asked if Ambien played a role in his car crash that Thanksgiving night (he brushed it off by explaining he got a ticket and there is a police report to go along with that if anyone was interested in further knowledge). His other was when a reporter asked if him coming back to golf was too soon considering the problems he must be having at home with Elin, and if maybe he should have spent this time mending his marriage instead of his golf game. Tiger answered, "Well, I'm excited to play this week," and that was that.

The talk of missing his son's first birthday was probably the moment when Tiger was actually Tiger, and not some character created to answer proper questions and never break from what he has made himself. He said that it was tough, and he vowed he'd never do that again. That was Tiger the person, not the machine, and it was nice to see him show us a side we haven't seen in years.

On Thursday Tiger will go back to being "the golfer," a title he's had some success with over the years. In the coming press conferences the questions about what happened that Thanksgiving night will grow fewer and fewer, and the hecklers showing up to hate on Woods will decrease the more he is out on the golf course.

What Monday showed is that above nothing else, Tiger is a likable person. He might have done some things in the past that made us all shake our heads, but if he means what he said to the 200 or so media members and the millions of others watching on television and the Internet, things will eventually be OK.

It was the first step in Tiger's healing process, not those other pressers he's "done." This was Tiger being himself, admitting that winning championships isn't as important as his family and the way he treats people close to him. He admitted to wanting to help others, and maybe these types of realizations will really change Tiger for the better. Maybe in 2011 and 2012 we will see a calmer Woods on the course, avoiding the club tossing and cursing for just a couple of head scratches when the shot doesn't go his way. Maybe this was the initial step to becoming the man we all thought he was before November of last year.

No matter if you love or hate the man, we can all agree on one thing — his return to golf can only be one thing, and that is great. It's nice to see him respecting the general public enough to give us straight answers and be sincere. Now, we can all go back to respecting him as the best golfer to ever play the game.

I never thought I'd say this, but he might just win this darn tournament on Sunday. If he means what he said he means, the sky is once again the limit.

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