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Watching Woods, the proudest of men, march down Augusta's fairways last week was a strange experience, given all we know about him now. Nearly everywhere Woods went he received respectful applause from the Masters galleries, but there was no whooping, nothing raucous.
He is now not only the world's greatest golfer but also a national punch line. About five hours after his Saturday round of 70, Tina Fey, on Saturday Night Live, played a Vegas dancer--Tiger girlfriend named Ashland St. Cloud, while Kenan Thompson played Tiger in a spoof of the creepy black-and-white Nike ad in which Woods stares silently into the camera and the voice of his father says, "I want to know what you're thinking." On SNL a faux Earl asks his son not to use his voice after he's dead "to sell sneakers after a sex scandal."
And the next day, there was the real Tiger Woods, trying to work it out on the practice tee again, and there was Tida Woods, Tiger's tiny mother, fighting through the crowds to watch her son. Between shots Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, walked with her, arm-in-arm. Tiger's wife, Elin, and their two children, Sam and Charlie, were nowhere to be seen. Mark Steinberg, Tiger's manager, was at Augusta, walking every hole with Tiger, who made four eagles last week and 17 birdies, but also 14 bogeys. Tiger can blame every club in the bag but should linger over the driver and the putter.
At one point Steinberg stopped and considered this question: What motivates Tiger now? He thought for part of a minute and said, "He's a professional golfer, a good one, trying to be the best one ever. He's coming back from something he's not terribly proud of, and he wants to win. He wants to win for his fans. For his family. And for the people who have supported him."
Sunday nights when Tiger Woods does not win are never pretty, and Sunday at Augusta was no exception. Steve Williams quickly changed out of his caddie overalls and said, "He didn't putt well enough to win." He said three-wood was plenty of club on 13 and that as a golfer Tiger was picking up where he left off.
Maybe in other ways too. In his brief postround remarks, Woods said, "I only enter events to win, and I didn't get it done." No nod to Phil or to the people who put on the Masters. In fact, the opposite. Woods left the club not in a tournament-issued Mercedes, which nearly all the other players used, but in a giant Chevrolet Suburban. He was still wearing his golf shoes, and he climbed into the front passenger seat, sunglasses on, eyes straight ahead, looking smaller than usual.
Who knows why Payne felt it was necessary to publicly lecture Woods, but few would dispute the deep truth in one of his comments. The chairman said of Woods, "I hope he can come to understand that life's greatest rewards are reserved for those who bring joy to the lives of other people."
His words brought to mind Arnold Palmer and Amy Mickelson, Bruce Edwards and the old SNL bit in which Chris Farley interviews Paul McCartney about the famous lyric near the final spins of Abbey Road:
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
Farley asks McCartney, "Is it true?"