Commentary

For Woods, hard times ahead

Originally Published: February 19, 2010
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

MARANA, Ariz. -- There are two decisive schools of thought following Tiger Woods' 13-minute prepared speech that featured his very first 1,513 public words of contrition at PGA Tour headquarters on Friday.

In one corner, there are those who believe this was simply a staged, made-for-television event. It was a contrived attempt at restoring his image, the contrarians maintain, and his unemotional, robotic machinations appeared nothing more than a public relations maneuver, aimed at appeasing his wife, his therapists and his remaining sponsors.

On the opposing side of the spectrum is the feeling that Woods was heartfelt in his sincerity and genuinely apologetic for his wrongdoings. These people believe he is on the path to recovery, attempting to make amends as part of this process.

Well, here's the reality: You're all correct.

Just because Woods orchestrated this occasion doesn't mean he had disingenuous intentions. Just because he read from a script doesn't mean his words weren't profound. And just because he failed to cry doesn't mean he wasn't filled with emotion.

I'm not sure Woods won many supporters with his speech, though I don't think he lost many, either. Instead, it's likely that preconceived notions prevailed in the aftermath. Which is to say: If you wanted to believe him, you did -- and if you didn't want to, you didn't.

The truth is, it doesn't matter whether a majority of the public believes him or understands him. As he stated multiple times, this is a private issue between Woods and his family, one which won't be solved in the tabloids or on the gossip sites.

It also doesn't matter if he was truly sincere, because this isn't a situation that Tiger will be able to distance himself from through words anyway. He can only prove his candor through actions and only in due time.

Perhaps learning it through his ongoing recovery process, Woods acknowledged this as fact.

"Elin and I have started the process of discussing the damage caused by my behavior," he said. "As Elin pointed out to me, my real apology to her will not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time. We have a lot to discuss; however, what we say to each other will remain between the two of us."

While his wife remained elsewhere, Woods read his speech mostly in monotone, changing his voice inflection only when addressing the paparazzi's continued pursuit of his family and denying reports that he had used performance-enhancing drugs. With few stumbles, he navigated through the words with all the efficiency of draining a series of uphill 2-foot putts, rarely looking up from his prepared statement.

He was, however, outwardly nervous and uncomfortable. Choosing to recite the prepared address rather than produce off-the-cuff, improvised remarks left him appearing unattached to the actual meaning, failing to make a true connection with, well, whomever he was trying to connect with. Even so, it may have been the proper strategy, as it allowed Woods to say everything he wanted without mincing words.

Those words included nine instances of the word "behavior" and five others of either "sorry" or "apology." It was a Tiger Woods we have never seen before -- contrite, eviscerated and embarrassed.

"The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior," he said. "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame.

"I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in. I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them.

"I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife's family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me."

To focus on how those words were prepared ahead of time or why they came devoid of emotion is to lose judgment of their meaning.

Woods knows he has let down his fans, his sponsors, his fellow players and, most importantly, his family. Now comes the hard part. He will attempt to change himself, to reintroduce the morals and values and ethics with which he was raised.

"You know what? I'm so proud to be his mother. Period," Kultida Woods told wire service reporters after attending the speech. "This thing, it teaches him, just like golf. When he changes a swing ... he wants to get better. ... He will start getting better ... it's just like that. Golf is just like life, when you make a mistake, you learn from your mistake and move on stronger. That's the way he is."

For most of Tiger Woods' life, success has been measured on leaderboards and scorecards, his results a specific determination of success or failure. In this instance, there are no numbers to apprise him of such progress. That will only come internally and privately with his family.

Whatever you thought of his speech on Friday, it must be acknowledged that he is a man at a crossroads in his life, one which will provide a greater challenge than anything he has known on the golf course.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.