What surprised you most? Was it when Tiger Woods showed up for a pre-Masters press conference from the back of the room, tapping scribes on the shoulder on his way to the dais? Or when, playing his first competitive round in nearly five months, he went around Augusta National in 68 shots?
Was it on the 2nd hole in the final round, when Woods, within shouting distance of the lead, left a simple bunker shot in a greenside trap like a Sunday duffer? Or nearly three hours later on 14, when, after pushing an eight-foot birdie putt, he made a casual swipe at his two-footer for par and missed that one too? His legendary focus was AWOL.
Were you surprised by the three-wood Woods played from the 13th tee all week? That club selection left the man he played with for all four rounds, K.J. Choi, scratching his head. For much of his career Woods would smash a hard-drawing driver there that would leave him with a nine-iron or pitching wedge into the par-5, but last week there was no sign that Woods was comfortable hitting draws with his driver. Early Saturday afternoon, on the massive new Augusta National driving range for a preround warmup (with his coach Hank Haney standing like a sentinel behind him), Woods hit about two dozen drivers, many erratically, working up a big sweat before heading for the 1st tee feeling lost.
Or maybe this Saturday-night scene would've surprised you most: Woods, leaving the club after a long day on the course and a long session on the range, heard a man call out, "Tiger, I'm from Kenya—can I get your autograph?" Woods stopped his car, walked over to the man and signed. If you know Tiger's patterns, you know that move was downright weird.
But his spitting habit was about the same. He wore, in a new kind of fashion statement for him, dark shades all week, saying that the pollen was "just killing my eyes." And his self-flagellation/profanity-use reached new levels of hilarity. The highlight in that department came on Saturday when he responded to his slightly short tee shot on the par-3 6th with, "Tiger Woods—you suck! Goddammit." It's a good bet that somewhere in greater Kansas City, a 60-year-old man with two green jackets has the letter of complaint already written in his head.
When it comes to how he should change and what he should do, everyone has advice for Tiger Woods. Here he is, one of the greatest and most dominating athletes ever, but lately all he does is apologize. On Saturday he apologized for his on-course outburst. In February, in his big made-for-TV non--press conference. In March, with his two quick-hit, five-minute TV interviews. On the Monday before the tournament, in his half-hour session with 180 reporters. To his wife. To his mother. To the memory of his father. To his sponsors. To his fans. To his friends. To his employees. And, of course, to the children, in America and across the world. Evidently, his serial cheating wounded the world's child population deeply, as did his (occasional) club throwing and (more occasional) cussing.
Woods has been aloof—from fans and reporters and officialdom—for most of his career. He has never really adopted golf's ancient model of grace in defeat or even victory. But now that he's an apologetic, self-admitted serial adulterer in recovery, the floodgates have opened to his critics.
Billy Payne, the Augusta National chairman, was the most recent to chime in. On Wednesday, shortly before the par-3 contest, with the whole golf world focused on golf again, Payne, reading a statement in his state-of-the-Masters press conference, chose to turn the focus back to Woods's private life (My Shot, G24). "It is not simply the degree of his conduct that is so egregious here," Payne said. "It's the fact that he disappointed all of us, and more important, our kids and our grandkids."
He asked rhetorically, "Is there a way forward? I hope yes. I think yes. But certainly his future will never again be measured only by his performance against par, but measured by the sincerity of his efforts to change."
Well, if you take those words literally, you'd likely give Woods low grades last week. His changes were modest, and as for sincerity, it all seemed a little forced. For the most part Woods picked up right where he had left off, as a man who plays golf not to make friends but to dominate the competition. From Thursday on, when talking to reporters, Woods was his characteristic unrevealing self. Asked about the chairman's public admonishment, Woods said, "I was disappointed in myself too."