Commentary

An image-rehab plan for Tiger Woods

Updated: December 11, 2009, 8:35 PM ET
By Rick Reilly | ESPN The Magazine

This column was originally published on Dec. 9.

Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesHopefully, Tiger's people have Oprah's people on the phone already.

Tiger Woods is the first person in history to run his car into a hydrant and set himself on fire.

His reputation is shredded. His once-perfect name has been dragged through more mud than a Nantucket clam digger's boots. A once-spotless life is now an episode of "Cops."

So what now?

First, Oprah Winfrey.

"It has to be Oprah," says the king of Las Vegas publicity men, Dave Kirvin. "If you did a poll on who's most disgusted by this whole mess, it would be women. To win over those women, you need to win over Oprah. You win over Oprah, you win over America."

Once he's on Oprah's couch, he says this:

"To my wife, to my kids, to my family, to my friends, to my fans, I am so sorry. You believed in me. You looked up to me. You thought I was different, and I let you down. I'm ashamed of myself. My mom is ashamed of me. I'm sure my dad would be ashamed of me. I'm an idiot." Then he has to go full Tebow: "From this day forward, you will never see somebody work harder, 24 hours a day, to win back your trust."

It has to be next week and no later, because every day the British tabloids have him sleeping with everybody but the Page 3 girl. "The sooner he makes his public act of contrition, the sooner he takes the oxygen out of the story," Kirvin says.

Second, he needs to shut down his public life.

He needs to skip San Diego, skip the Masters, maybe even skip the U.S. Open. When your house is rubble, you don't go play the Buick Open. Tiger needs to prove to his wife, Elin, sponsors and fans that morality is more important than majors.

Third, he needs to clean house. If he wants to keep his wife, he has to get a new agent, a new caddie and some new friends. It's hard to believe all this went on without their help or knowledge. How can she see them as anything but enablers?

Fourth, he needs to freeze his corporate sponsors before they freeze him. He needs to tell them, "I'm not doing any ads or taking any payment until I can again prove myself worthy of your products. I'm sorry I've let you down. It won't happen again."

Fifth, he needs to write his Tiger Woods Learning Center a check for $5 million with a note that says, "Keep studying hard. I'll be back to help you fundraise in 2011."

He needs sincerity and commitment and honor now because he might have just ruined a lot of lives, maybe even his own.

He needs transparency. Let us into your life a little. Do the "A week on the road with Tiger" story. Give a home interview once in a while. Let people check in the closets and under the bed. Prove to the world you've changed. Because "no comment" and three security guards are only going to make people suspicious.

Sixth, a few manners wouldn't kill him. No more terrible-twos temper. No more swearing. No more throwing clubs. And instead of pulling his signature blow-by move on the hundreds of autograph seekers waiting for him after every round, stop and sign for 15 minutes. Hasn't hurt Phil Mickelson any.

This fall is straight out of the Book of Wallenda. Not so much because his bottom was so low, but because his top was so high. His image, his likability, his hero factor were in the clouds. He was the kid with the 10,000-watt smile from the public golf course -- he brought golf to people of color all over the world. He was the great black hope of the game who made good.

A golfer? With two young kids at home? Alleged to have had affairs with numerous women? The best swinger becoming the biggest swinger? Overnight? Unthinkable!

Seventh, he has to return to the Tour and take the ridicule he has coming. He'll feel as though he's being paraded down Main Street, naked, in a glass box. Women will be wearing TIGER, YOU FORGOT ME T-shirts. Guys will be holding ELIN OVERCLUBBED signs. Babes will be hollering, "Hey, Tiger! I took my name off my voice mail like you said!"

He can shoot 42 over par; he just has to get through it. Then he has to play in a major, maybe the British at St. Andrews, where he won last time. And then he has to start winning again.

"There's four steps to getting past this in the public eye," Kirvin says. "First tournament. First major. First tournament victory. First major victory. Only then will the media let us get over this. The public will forgive him. They won't ever forget, but they'll forgive."

He'll come out of this as an even better player, if that's possible. The golf course will be the one place where he can go to forget, and he will want to forget constantly. Where he once spent six hours on the range, he will spend eight. Where he once had the will of 10 men, he will have the will of 100. He will win again -- win huge -- and people will call it a comeback.

But it won't be a comeback. He never lost his game. He only lost his mind.


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