Cloudy future ahead for Woods

Originally Published: December 2, 2009
ESPN.com

Without specifically admitting anything, Tiger Woods issued a statement on Wednesday morning saying, "I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all of my heart."

So what will the short-term and long-term implications be on Tiger's world, both inside and outside the ropes? ESPN.com golf writers Jason Sobel and Bob Harig discuss that and more in their e-mail chat, Alternate Shot.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

After a week of tabloid-fueled allegations, speculation and innuendo, Tiger Woods came forward on Wednesday, admitting to "transgressions" and "letting my family down" without ever specifically addressing what took place.

Safe to say, though, that he wasn't speaking about losing to Y.E. Yang at the PGA Championship. Look, we're not in the business of raking the muck from athletes' personal lives, so rather than discuss the rumors, let's talk about how they will affect him as a person and a golfer.

My take? Inside the ropes, he's going to be the same ol' Tiger Woods when he tees it up again in 2010.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

No doubt. In fact, this entire deal will likely embolden him. It is what makes Tiger such a fierce competitor and accomplished player in a sport in which failure usually wins out over victories. His focus and ability to put aside distractions is legendary. And I expect nothing different here.

The only problem I foresee is the time it takes for him to work through the personal issues. Alleged infidelity is unlikely to be resolved with a single conversation. As he works through that, does it distract from his preparation? Maybe in the short term. But in the golf context of this, he's got nothing imminent.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

In terms of his performance level, I see this affecting him very little. If he comes out and wins in his first three appearances, people will try to rationalize that having his private life made public has only added fuel to the fire and helped him become a fiercer competitor; if he fails to win for a while, it will be explained away by the fact he obviously has plenty on his plate and isn't focused on golf.

Either way, Tiger won't use this to credit his success or blame his failures. And while there is no precedent set for such a situation in his own life, we have seen him deal with personal strife before. When his father passed away in 2006, he missed the cut in his first start back at the U.S. Open, but won one month later at The Open Championship.

Completely different circumstances, of course, but it does show us that, in due time, he is able to block out distractions and get back to what he does best.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

And he's got time, too. At the very least, we are not likely to see him again on a golf course until the end of January at Torrey Pines, where he won the 2008 U.S. Open and where he has won six PGA Tour events.

That is a positive venue for Tiger, and it makes sense that he would make his 2010 debut there. By then, his injuries will have healed, he'll have had plenty of time to get his game back in shape, and the only questions that will remain concern the emotional fallout of all of this.

Obviously the media circus will move to San Diego that week, which leads to the question: Should Tiger talk about this situation in a forum other than this Web site before then?

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

Funny you mention that U.S. Open, because it was prior to the opening round when he was asked a question about controlling the news through his personal Web site and said, "It is a way for me to communicate, because as everyone knows I'm a little bit shy and a touch guarded at times, and this is a way for me to express myself in a way that I normally don't."

As we've discussed many times throughout his career, if Woods doesn't want the public to know something, he simply won't say it. And it appears that is the case here, as well, with his admitting to only those aforementioned "transgressions."

So, no, I don't believe we will see him call a press conference to clear the air anytime soon, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him on the couch with Oprah or Barbara Walters if one of them comes calling in the next few weeks.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

Although in my mind, he doesn't have to do something like that to move on from this. It certainly could help for him to do an interview in a controlled environment like that. Get it out there, show you're human, let people see your weaknesses.

Not to condone anything, but plenty of others in the past have been forgiven for their transgressions. And that way he can get it out of the way and say he won't discuss it anymore.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

Remember, though, there is a lot more at stake for Woods than simply winning tournaments. While I do think great golf will bring many of the fans back, he needs to do something with his words to win them over again because without this support, the sponsorships could begin to dry up, too.

I mean, what company -- whether it's Nike, Gatorade, AT&T, Gillette or another -- would want to employ an endorser who is widely disliked by the masses? And while it's true that Tiger could live his life 100 times over based on the bottom line number currently on his bank statement, no person wants to lose a large percentage of his annual income, no matter how much money is being earned in other ways.

For now, each of these companies is -- much like Elin, as far as we know -- standing by its man, but that could certainly change in the future.

FROM: Bob Harig More

TO: Jason Sobel

His sponsors will stand by him whether he says anything more or not. It would certainly help him to be repentant as he moves on. He might not want to give specifics, but it wouldn't hurt if he again expressed his sincere sorrow.

But even if a sponsor leaves him, somebody else will step in. After all, he's still the best player in the world, and he's likely to funnel this energy into something positive for himself and his game.

FROM: Jason Sobel More

TO: Bob Harig

I'm less interested in how he returns than in how he is treated upon that return. I've heard people try to compare Woods to either Kobe Bryant or Ray Lewis in recent days, referring to two superstar athletes who have undergone publicized personal problems in the past.

But each of those men went to trial for a crime, making it an unfair corollary. Perhaps the best analogy comes from Major League Baseball. The last time there was a work stoppage -- in the summer of 1994 -- many fans resolved to never return to the sport. While I'm sure there are some who kept to their word, many more gradually came back, their love for the game superseding their frustrations with the owners and players association.

There could be a similar progression for Woods. Don't be surprised to hear some lusty calls of opposition when he sets foot on the first tee at Torrey Pines come Jan. 28, but by the time he surpasses Jack Nicklaus with 19 major victories -- if he surpasses him -- that disapproval is likely to have dissipated.