Tiger Woods is painting by the numbers now, doing all the hackneyed personality-rehab assignments. He wrote a Newsweek op-ed that said the last year had changed him, leaving him with a pain in his soul over an artificially conducted personal life. He wrote about learning the joy of bathing his kids and feeding them macaroni and cheese. He went on ESPN's "Mike and Mike in the Morning" radio show. He sent out his first tweet.
A year ago, people woke up the day after Thanksgiving and learned that Woods had been in a car accident overnight in his Florida neighborhood. He was left with a bump on his head, a window reportedly broken by his wife in a rescue attempt and a whole lot of explaining to do -- which he still hasn't done. In no time, the meeting of an SUV and a fire hydrant had spun off the biggest American sex scandal since Monica Lewinsky refused to wash her blue dress.
Woods' image handlers still don't grasp that his constituency has changed. For the most part, hardcore sports fans are still with him. They never really left. They don't want to hear gooey platitudes about his personal life. They might want some answers about the accident, or about whether painkillers necessitated by his knee injuries may have led to sloppy conduct both behind the wheel and in text-messaging habits with his mistresses.
But that's not what Tiger is offering. He's serving up Spin Dr. Phil.
The golf fans who did turn on him, interpreting his rampant marital infidelity as verification that his snippiness and profanity on the course were markers of a narcissistic jerk, won't be won over by these vague attempts at humility. They're more likely to come back slowly, and perhaps acknowledge that his inability to win this year, for the first time in 15 seasons as a pro, suggests that he wasn't completely cold-blooded about destroying his marriage. They'll eventually fall into the "he's suffered enough" camp and accept his comeback.
But the general audience fled, and it's not coming back. Sure, some of that demographic may take a peek if Woods is winning a major, but most of the crowd is probably like my mother. She didn't care about golf until he came along and stopped caring once the bimbo eruptions started. She doesn't dislike him. She can easily forgive and forget, because she went straight to forgetting all about Tiger Woods.
So the anniversary redemption tour is really aimed at one group -- the corporate sponsors who might want to cash in on America's fondness for second chances. But the tour has hit the wrong notes. Woods' potentially new fan base, the one growth area for him, is rubber-neckers. The perfect Tiger Woods probably never appealed to them. The dirty one has potential.
But Woods keeps trying to recapture the Disney version of himself, the cartoonish idealized man. The Nike version is the only one that will sell, the Just Do It winner, the athlete who knows when to Just Shut Up and Play. To change the conversation, as the PR people say, he has to do the thing that made him a conversation piece in the first place. He has to play great golf.
Everything else is just blather and, at its worst, exasperating hypocrisy. This is a man who insists on a right to privacy, but gives it away in small, meaningless scraps to satisfy his image crafters. None of his supporters missed this point more than Nike. Its ad featuring the admonishing voice of his dead father, Earl, betrayed both Tiger's commitment to sheltering his personal life and the company's long-held position that athletic greatness is its own virtue.
Woods' last year has given us an odd corollary to "The cover-up is worse than the crime." Bad mea culpas can compound the original sin.