In the past several days, we have read reports that Tiger Woods plans to return to golf at the Masters; that he hasn’t decided when to return; that he is taking lessons from his swing coach (that’s golf, not women); that he is back living in the same home with his wife; that said wife Elin is happy, or torn, or possibly both; that on the night of the accident (involving an SUV, a fire hydrant and an oak tree), Elin gave police two Vicodin bottles that belonged to Woods; that the ambulance crew that night suspected domestic violence; that Woods has the lowest “Q Score” of any athlete since Kobe Bryant; and that he has hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to handle his public relations.
At some point soon, I’m sure Fleischer will either seek pain killers himself or ask Woods to create some minor diversion that Fleischer is more accustomed to handling, like invading Iraq.
As probably the single biggest athlete in the world today, it follows that Woods has created the biggest circus. Nobody should be surprised by what has happened because this story is the mother of all pileups. It involves everything — whether actual or rumored — that commands our attention these days: Sports, celebrity, sex, marriage, violence, porn, drugs and conspiracies.
So where is the best place for Woods to seek peace?
That’s easy. Augusta National.
I’m not suggesting Woods return to golf soon (although that seems apparent). Nor should he expect that when he does return, the world immediately will give him a warm embrace. Fact is, even if you believe his marriage is his personal business, that whole universal-admiration thing likely is gone forever.
But golf is unlike any sport in at least one way: The
biggest event is the least circus-like.
The Masters is not held in a public venue. It is held in a private club.
Augusta National is the secret society of sports. If CIA agents wore green jackets, we never would be able to tell members of the two apart.
If Woods makes his return at the Masters, he won’t have to deal with taunts or lampoons from obnoxious galleries. Understand, golf fans in general are sedate. They applaud on cue, like trained seals, only after somebody lowers the, “Hush, y’all,” sign.
Masters crowds are the extreme of this. Every badge has a number. Every number has a name. If a fan gets out of hand, he never will see that badge again. That’s even assuming we ever find the body.
The Masters isn’t the Super Bowl or the NBA All-Star Game. Media credentials aren’t given to anybody with a blog or a Facebook page. E! and People and TMZ won’t be allowed onto the grounds. Or into news conferences. Or remotely close to the backdoor of the clubhouse, where the waiter who brought Woods his grilled chicken on wheat toast can be secretly interviewed.
In any other sport, the advice to Woods would be to slowly ease his way back into public life. If he pitched for the Braves, I would suggest a Tuesday night road game against the Marlins. In golf, fly to Atlanta and drive east on I-20. The Masters is the most controlled atmosphere in sports.
Outside the gates at Augusta, the mocking continues. Shock jock Howard Stern held a $100,000 Tigers Woods Mistresses Beauty Pageant last week, complete with a question-answer period and bikini contest. The season’s first episode of “South Park” this week will feature Woods making his public confession on infidelity. Tabloids continue to dumpster dive.
Woods has brought Fleischer on board. The former White House spokesman for President Bush started a sports-communications company. We can assume he’s not opposed to a challenge, given his recent clients include Mark McGwire and the BCS.
Woods never will be viewed by everybody the same again. Those who count “Q Score” will tell you that even Bryant’s star power has come back only 60 percent since sexual-assault charges. How Woods handles that will determine whether he returns to dominance in golf. At some point, he’ll hear the taunts. But not inside the gates of Augusta National. Golf’s biggest stage is the safest one.