As Tiger Woods prepares to play in Quail Hollow this week, the first non-major since his troubles began, we're finally reaching a natural closing point to this saga. So let's take a look at some of the major questions that still surround Tiger and the golf world. Today: what can Tiger Woods do to continue to repair his tattered image?
We're all at the point of Tiger fatigue, aren't we? The guy has played exactly four days of competitive golf in the five months since his little accident, so that's left us with all kinds of time to speculate, pontificate and joke.
That is a huge problem for Tiger.
Early on in this story, we (along with many other observers) indicated that we thought Tiger needed to get out in front of this story, to make a round of mea culpa interviews on Oprah, Letterman and other major outlets. My rationale was, you get this done before the holidays and by the time January rolls around, "Tiger Woods" is a non-event.
Well, we see how well that worked out. Tiger did nothing of the sort, staying silent save for some brief snippets of conversation here and there. All the while, the circus around Woods grew larger, the critics hollering "Cheetah Woods" (boy, THAT never gets old) and other jibes grew louder, the hack Tiger jokes and cartoons piled up in the email boxes of the world, and the day when we could look at Woods as "just" a golfer vanished farther and farther into the distance.
Then came the Masters, and for a moment, it seemed like there was hope. Woods' press conference on the Monday of the Masters was a completely different Tiger than we'd seen since the accident, a Tiger at ease and confident. For an instant, he won back almost everybody but the hardcore haters.
And then he turned around and gave it all away with his Sunday postround snit, in which he griped entirely about himself and his game, and came off as selfish and ungrateful. Which brings us to today, when there's a sizable contingent of fans actively rooting against Tiger. Those hefty endorsement contracts aren't coming back anytime soon.
So here's the deal. Critics aside, most people are done with this story, and for Woods, that's a good thing. Tiger can use the public's fatigue with his story to his advantage. Here's how: he moves on and expects us to do the same.
Look, he'll get more questions about this entire story. That's going to happen. But he needs to accept them, answer them quickly and decisively, and move on to the next one. Dwelling on "why do you have to ask that?" answers or declining to answer certain questions will only make it all worse. People want to see him play golf, not hear him talk about how sorry he is.
Which brings us to our next point. Woods doesn't need to pursue any kind of ridiculous "apology tour" where he visits schools or meets with old people or any kind of nonsense like that. The politicians and image consultants never get this, but people can see right through that garbage. If Tiger wants to help kids, do it without inviting in the cameras.
Now, that said, Tiger should take a slightly new approach to PR. (Well, aside from firing his entire image team, which has miserably failed him and continues to do so.) If he'd done one simple thing -- if he'd stopped after that Sunday round and said, "Hey, I didn't play how I wanted to play, but I thank everyone for coming out here and supporting me" -- he'd have worked miracles with his image.
Woods has legions of fans who have stood by him through this entire mess. He also has a new legion of haters, who despise everything he does. He's never going to move the needle with either of these two groups. So if he focuses on that middle group, the Great Undecided, he'll be in far better shape. And that group wants to see him golf, not flail away on some apology marathon.
So get on out there and play golf, Tiger. Don't court questions about the last five months, but when they come -- and they will -- don't dodge them either. Throw out a thank you every now and then. Oh, and win. That'll solve almost all woes.
The "Wrapping Up Tiger" series:
• Monday: How ready is a non-Augusta tournament to host Tiger Woods?
• Today: How can Tiger Woods continue to repair his image?
• Wednesday: How will the Tiger Woods story change the world of golf?
• Thursday: What did everybody learn from the Tiger Woods saga?
• Friday: What will be the long-term effects of Tiger's story?