Commentary

Tiger's way back, step by step

His statement was sincere and very painful, but necessary to his road to recovery.

Updated: February 20, 2010, 6:27 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Too choreographed? Too disingenuous? Too little emotion? I'm sorry, did Tiger Woods make another speech today that I don't know about?

To the people ripping Woods for his Friday mea culpa, let me get this straight: Woods stepped into the planet's largest confessional booth, stared into a television camera, humbled himself to the size of a ball marker, admitted his marital infidelity, apologized repeatedly, begged for a second chance, did all of this as his mother sat a flagstick away and that's still not enough?

Sure, it was staged. What, you expected a pay-per-view event where Woods would do a PowerPoint presentation on how many women not-named-Elin he slept with?

And if you turn your attention to pie chart graphic 11-A, you'll see a breakdown of cities and countries where I cheated on my wife.

And, of course, he looked like a guy having a fistfight with himself. Old Tiger would have never subjected himself to public humiliation. New Rehab Tiger did, but it didn't come naturally.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Eric Gay/Getty ImagesTiger clearly has been beating himself up over his transgressions.

Seriously, how many pounds of flesh do people require from Woods before it's enough? Who cares if his speech was uneven, or if he didn't stain the lectern with tears -- as if that's how you judge the sincerity and quality of those 13 minutes and 32 seconds.

Friday's confession was nearer the beginning than the end. Woods said so himself. In fact, it served as the official steps No. 4 and No. 5 of the 12-step program to deal with addiction.

Step No. 4: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

Step No. 5: "Admitted … to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

Don't know about you, but Woods telling the world, "My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before," seems to fit the moral inventory checklist. And him saying, "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated," is as blunt an admission of a wrong as you'll ever hear.

Woods doesn't do emotion well. Check that -- he does I-Just-Chipped-It-In-From-The-Fringe-On-No. 16-At-Augusta-National fist pumps really well. He's an expert at four-letter carpet bombing and throwing clubs really well. But that's on the golf course. That's his comfort zone.

Friday's 13-plus minutes weren't his comfort zone. Even in an ultra-controlled environment, Woods looked as if his stomach was tied in square knots. Faked? Forced? Mechanical? No way.

If you've ever talked to Woods when he's in his comfort zone -- at a tournament, after a news conference when he stops for a few extra questions, just off the 18th green after he's finished his round or in the locker room -- you'd know he prides himself on revealing bits and pieces of himself in teaspoon-size servings. What I saw Friday was bigger than a teaspoon.

And nothing against the people who were critical of the speech, but Woods didn't write it for them. He wrote it for himself, for his wife, for his family, for his friends, for children and teenagers who considered him a role model. I wasn't expecting Winston Churchill/Martin Luther King Jr.-quality stuff. I was hoping for something genuine, however awkwardly delivered, and I got it.

Questions remain unanswered. That's because questions weren't allowed to be asked. But Friday was never meant to be Oprah at TPC Sawgrass. It was supposed to be Woods peeling back a layer of his defense shield and talking in a way we've never heard him talk.

So what if it was an imperfect performance? After all, we're talking about an imperfect man. He's trying to repair the engine block of his marriage and life. So I think I'll give him a pass on the windshield wipers leaving streak marks.

When and where will he play again? Got me. Got Tiger, too. First he has to rehab himself, his marriage, his image and then his golf. Until he does that, Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews -- three of his favorite courses hosting three of his favorite majors -- will have to sit in coach while his personal life sits in first class.

Anyway, if you needed an apology from Woods, you got it. If you wanted to see tears in his eyes, you saw them. If you demanded humility, he offered it.

Name the last time -- pre-Thanksgiving 2009 -- that Woods admitted he did something wrong. He has punished others for their slights of him (Fuzzy Zoeller, Stephen Ames, assorted sports writers and golf broadcasters). Now he takes the full brunt of those astonished by his affairs.

Not long after his speech, ESPN cut away for a commercial break. It had to be a coincidence (right?), but a Nike ad appeared. The song, "All In The Jungle," by Hours, played over the video.

Everybody gets knocked down …
How quick are you gonna get up?

Woods has been knocked down since November. The damage was self-inflicted and deserved. Friday, in a bizarre, surreal setting, he stood up again.

Wobbly, but up.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

MORE COMMENTARY >>

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter