He came, he spoke, he took questions.
In thirty-five minutes in front of an international press corps and a live audience watching streams and TVs, Tiger Woods did what the world has been asking him to do. He spoke calmly, but not at all robotically. He answered nearly every question, addressed issues seemingly without evasion, bridled just a little, but came across as thoughtful, apologetic, and as open as anyone could have expected.
He only once said, "That's personal," when he was asked specifically what he was in rehab for.
On the touchier subjects, he was forthright if not expansive:
Why did he go to the hospital Thanksgiving night?: "I had a busted-up lip and a pretty sore neck -- that was it. It required five stitches in my lip."
Was Ambien or Vicodin involved in the accident?: "The police investigated the accident. Cited me 166 bucks. Closed case."
Why were you treated by Dr. Galea, who has been subsequently arrested for possessing human growth hormone [HGH]?: "He's worked with a lot of athletes. There's a comfort level when you're seeing someone who's worked with athletes." He also stated again that he did not receive HGH or performance-enhancing drugs from Galea, and has never used them at any time. He noted that federal authorities investigating Galea have been in touch with his agent, Mark Steinberg, but they have not yet indicated they want to speak with Tiger.
Will you keep your management team intact?: "I certainly have everyone around me. I've lied and deceived a lot of people and a lot of people didn't know what I was doing, either...To have Stevie [Williams, his caddie] back, it's tremendous. It really is. He's a great friend, always has been and always will be. We are honest with one another. We've had a long talk, and it was a great talk as well."
Why didn't you do this -- a press conference -- sooner?: "December, because I wasn't at a right place for it. And in January, I was in rehab."
He also provided information about something that hadn't been reported: that in 2008, in the course of recovering from his knee operation that summer after the U.S. Open win at Torrey Pines, he tore his Achilles tendon, and tore it several times more during the following year. "It's one of the reasons why when I did come back and I did start playing, I was hitting the ball so short. I couldn't push off of my right side."
His wife Elin remains the most delicate subject. He spoke -- as he has many times before -- of his love for his children, without mentioning his wife in the same context. "People probably don't realize [that because of my entering rehab] I missed my son's first birthday. And that hurts. That hurts a lot. I vowed I would never miss another one after that. I can't go back to where I was. I want to be a part of my son's life and my daughter's life going forward and I missed his first birthday...[that was] something I regret and I probably will for the rest of my life." (Reading between the lines, it doesn't look good for the Woodses' marriage -- why else would he have to say he wants to be a part of his chidren's lives?) When asked immediately after if Elin and the kids would be joining him at the Masters, he responded stonily, "Elin is not coming this week, no."
He said many of the things he said in his statement in February, but while his delivery then struck many as remote and over-rehearsed, today he was warmer and also more self-aware than in any interview I've seen. He was self-lacerating about his shortcomings, the ways he hurt people and betrayed the values taught him by his mother and father. The words he used included "apologize," "wrong" (twice), "astray," "denial" (three times), "rationalization," "terrible" (twice), "pain and damage" (twice), "horrible," "responsibility" (three times), "not correct" or "not right" (three times), "harm," "mistakes," "lied" (six times), and "hit bottom." The apology -- as was appropriate -- was to the players who've had to deal with all the questions about Tiger and his actions and his possible return.
The most encouraging comments were in reply to a question about his statement in February that he wanted to show more respect for the game, and how he intended to do that. After saying he's going to try to not get as angry when he plays, to keep an even keel, he went on: "Just trying to be more respectful of the game and acknowledge the fans like I did today. That was just an incredible reception today for all 18 holes, and show my appreciation for them. I haven't done that in the past few years, and that was wrong of me. So many kids have looked up to me and so many fans have supported me through the years. Just wanted to say thank you to them, especially going through all of this the past few months, it really put things in perspective for me and how much I appreciated -- or underappreciated the fans in the game of golf."
The words were good and right. The questions were asked and answered. It's now up to him to just do it.