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The Great Unknown

At news conference, Tiger Woods appears smooth, and unbelievable

April 06, 2010|BILL PLASCHKE

AUGUSTA, GA. — On a warm spring afternoon, wiping the sweat from his forehead with his giant biceps, Tiger Woods played the Masters' media the way he plays the Masters tournament.

He was smooth, straight, powerful at times, precise at others, dramatically calculating, poignantly finishing.

He was, well, unbelievable.

A good thing on a golf course, not so good on the fairway of public opinion, where the world's greatest golfer still came off as the world's least trusted athlete, his first news conference after five months best described as a bogey.

"I've lied and deceived a lot of people," Woods said.

Yet the one question left unanswered Monday was, how do we know he's not doing it still?

In a 34-minute appearance at Augusta National on Monday, nearly five months since his life spiraled into a devastating sex scandal, Woods addressed all the questions, but didn't.

He expressed remorse, but showed no visible signs of change. He seemed more openly friendly, yet remained tersely protective. He made all the proper shots, yet none of it seemed quite right.

"I lied to myself, I lied to others," said Woods, who then proceeded to offer only glimpses of the truth.

He said he spent 45 days in a rehab center -- allegedly for sexual addiction amid reports of dalliances with more than a dozen mistresses -- but would not confirm his affliction.

"That's personal, thank you," he said.

He admitted to working with performance-enhancing drug guru Dr. Tony Galea, saying that he was receiving a restorative blood treatment. Yet, in denying the use of PEDs, he also refused to acknowledge the danger in associating with a doctor who is known for them, even though Woods still has the sort of bloated muscular body often found in steroid users.

"He's worked with so many athletes -- there's a certain comfort level when a person has worked with athletes," Woods explained.

He talked about his injuries suffered in the celebrated one-car accident Thanksgiving night -- "A busted-up lip and a pretty sore neck" -- yet he would not address witness reports that Woods appeared to be drugged at the time.

"Well, the police investigated the accident and they cited me 166 bucks and it's a closed case,'' he said.

He noted that wife Elin would not be attending the Masters, his first tournament since the sex scandal broke after the accident. But he refused to answer whether his return to golf here contradicted his original statement that he was leaving the game to mend his family.

"I'm excited to play this week," he said, moving on to the next question.

Give him some credit. He did his best. He worked a rainbow-colored shirt and a big smile, both rarely seen on him. He offered some truly personal insights, also rarely heard from him, such as when he discussed missing his son's 1st birthday because he was in a rehab center.

"That hurts . . . that hurts a lot," he said. "I vowed I would never miss another one after that. I can't go back to where I was."

He hugged a Masters official, which may be the first time I've ever seen him hug anybody outside of his family or his caddie. He called reporters by their first names, called us all friends, even referred to one as "bro."

But in the end, it was obvious that we still don't know him, and that he still may not know himself.

"As part of where I was at, I was rationalizing and denying and in total denials at times," he said. "Whatever I did, I lied to myself, I lied to others."

Yet there was a nagging feeling that he was continuing to do this.

"It's not about championships, it's how you live your life. . . . Winning golf tournaments doesn't mean a thing. . . . The fact I won golf tournaments I think is irrelevant," he said in several different answers.

Yet he in the next breath he talked about flying to Augusta several times before this week to prepare for the Masters, and sounded like the same old Tiger in talking about his expectations.

"Nothing's changed," he said. "Going to go out there and try to win this thing."

He bragged that his inner circle has remained intact throughout the scandal, from caddie to agent, yet these are the same folks who may have facilitated a private life so brazen, Woods has since been dropped or downgraded by most of his major sponsors.

"I certainly have everyone around me," Woods said. "I've had . . . a tremendous amount of support."

He was thrilled that Monday's practice round here, his first public round since the sex scandal, was filled with cheering fans. But Augusta National is the golf equivalent of church, where fans must cheer here or risk being ejected.

"The encouragement that I got . . . it blew me away, to be honest with you," Woods said.

To be honest with us? I'm not entirely sure that was happening Monday.

But come Thursday morning, when a clearly relieved Tiger Woods takes the first tee in the first tournament of his new life, I'm not entirely sure that it will matter.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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