We are used to witnessing confidence and cool. We are used to seeing Tiger Woods standing over a 12-foot putt, with several million people watching and several million dollars on the line, and calmly tapping a small white ball into a four-inch cup.
We are used to uncommon resolve: 14 victories in majors, the first at the Masters when he was 21, the last at the U.S. Open when he labored on a torn knee ligament and a double stress fracture in his tibia.
We saw none of that Friday. We saw a broken man. We saw flaws. It was uncomfortable. Woods, who used to own the room because he owned his sport and to a degree the celebrity landscape, read from a statement that he might’ve rehearsed 1,000 times. Still the words tumbled out of his mouth slowly like he was speaking a foreign language. In a sense, he was.
This is what happens when reality hits. We’ve seen it before — weeping evangelists after sex scandals, fallen athletes after failed drug tests, Hollywood celebrities after DUIs. This was Tiger Woods off stage. It wasn’t pretty.
“I have a lot to atone for,” he said.
What will public humiliation mean for his future? Possibly everything. Some boxers are never the same after they get knocked down for the first time. The air of invincibility is gone. We can’t be certain how Woods will be affected by the knowledge that he is no longer universally admired and revered.
What does it mean for his future? Possibly nothing. Great athletes operate with tunnel vision. Woods thrived, despite meteoric expectations and pressure, the death of his father, injuries, certainly multiple women texting his cell phone. The great ones are driven by failure and criticism and a doubting public.
But Woods said it himself: We judge by actions, not orchestrated press conferences. To predict what happens the next time Woods steps onto a golf course is futile.
We’ve come to expect greatness from Woods. If he entered and won the Masters in April, it wouldn’t be surprising. Why? Because it would be so Tiger. Because he’s that good. Because unlike a mountain of record holders in sports, Woods never cheated his game. He broke commandments.
He no longer has the perfect life. He is staple content on TMZ. Some 40 Stepford-looking supporters and a few hand-selected media members witnessed Woods’ statement in a room from the PGA Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. But among the missing: his wife, Elin Nordegren.
“Every one of you has good reason to be critical of me,” Woods said in a 13-minute statement, with his mother, Kultida, watching from the front row. “I am deeply sorry for my irresponsible and selfish behavior. I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. I am the only person to blame.”
A dozen women, from porn actresses to a coffee shop waitress, claim to have had affairs with Woods. Multiple reports said the news led to an argument between Woods and his wife, leading to him rushing out of his home Thanksgiving night and crashing his Escalade into a tree. Woods denied reports that Elin hit him with a golf club, although it was strange he actually made an issue of it Friday, saying: “There has never been an episode of domestic violence in our marriage. Elin has shown enormous grace and poise. Elin deserves praise, not blame.”
Question: Who was ever blaming her? And why even address allegations of performance-enhancing drugs, a story that has received little attention, on this day?
He admitted spending 45 days in rehab, and will return there soon (though for the record he never specified it was for a sex addiction, only “the issues I’m facing”).
“I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in,” he said. “I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I thought only about myself. 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.”
When it was over, Woods and his mother, Kultida, embraced. “I’m so proud of you. Never think you stand alone,” she told him.
He is not alone. But he’s no longer on a pedestal either. Now we’ll learn how he reacts to that.