Woods displays his humble, caring side
By Doug Ferguson
AUGUSTA, Ga. — He looked like the same Tiger Woods, head down as he walked along the first fairway at the Masters, no one suspecting the jangled nerves he felt from taking his golf public for the first time since his private life unraveled.
One fan called out, "Welcome back, Tiger."
Instead of ignoring him as he has done so often, Woods turned toward the man with a wave and a smile.
"To be out there in front of the people, where I have done some things that are just horrible, and for the fans to really want to see me play golf again ... I mean, that felt great," Woods said yesterday. "That really did."
Then came another tense moment — facing the media for the first time since he was exposed for cheating on his wife.
He dodged questions with rehearsed answers, refused to go into details about the therapy he sought or the state of his marriage, except that his wife won't be at Augusta National this week. But there was a touch of humility and patience in his voice during a 35-minute press conference. He even tried to call every writer by name.
"I need to be a better man going forward than I was before," he said. "And just because I've gone through treatment doesn't mean it stops. I'm trying as hard as I possibly can each and every day to get my life better and better and stronger. And if I win championships along the way, so be it."
One thing hasn't changed.
Woods, a four-time champion who hasn't hit a shot that mattered since Nov. 15, is not at the Masters simply to make amends.
"Going to go out there and try to win this thing," he said.
It was a solid start in the process of restoring his image. Woods clearly was intent on mingling more with the fans than he did before the sex scandal. First, he putted a couple of balls to some kids watching alongside the 18th green. Then, a real surprise: he stopped to sign autographs while heading to the practice range.
He had not played to the crowd since winning the Australian Masters in Melbourne, where fans saw him only as golf's best player with 82 victories and 14 majors and no rival except history.
His world caved in 12 days later with a car accident outside his home that sent him to the hospital with a busted lip that required five stitches.
"A lot has happened in my life over the past five months," said Woods, who provided a few details and denials in the 47 questions he fielded from reporters who occupied all 207 seats in the media center.
Among the revelations:
• He ruptured the Achilles' tendon in his right leg in December 2008, two months before his return from knee surgery. Woods said he was taking Vicodin for that and his left knee.
• He began taking Ambien after his father died because he was having trouble sleeping.
• He was sent to an Orlando, Fla., hospital after his Nov. 27 accident for a sore neck and a cut lip.
• He denied ever taking human growth hormone, performance-enhancing drugs or "any illegal drug." He said he sought out Canadian doctor Anthony Galea for "blood spinning" because of his treatment on other athletes. Galea's assistant was caught bringing HGH and other substances into the United States last year.
Woods said the government has contacted him about his association with Galea and that he would cooperate fully, "but as of right now, they have not asked for my time."
Woods also said he would tone down his temper — and his celebrations — on the course.
In his last tournament, he flipped his driver to the turf after an errant tee shot, and the club bounced into and over the gallery. Woods retrieved the club without concern or apology.
"I'm actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play," Woods said. "But then again, when I'm not as hot, I'm not going to be as exuberant, either."
He was calm yesterday. He had a scraggly goatee and smiled and made eye contact with the gallery.
And as Woods has done in statements on his Web site, a public apology at PGA Tour headquarters Feb. 19 and a pair of five-minute TV interviews two weeks ago, he owned up to his mistakes.