A CIVILIZED CIRCUS: WOODS MORE THAN PREPARED FOR CLOSE-UP WITH MEDIA

The word "sex" was never uttered. Neither were the words "affair,""cheating" nor even "women." For a news conference in which the world’s most famous athlete was to address his dirty demons, it was remarkably sanitized. You could have let your 6-year-old watch it.

Of course, what Tiger Woods was fessing up to, if you believe the reports, was X-rated stuff, full of nasty details, explicit trysts, porn stars. But this is golf. This is the Masters. And Woods is perhaps the most managed corporate asset this side of a hedge fund.

So his mea culpa was only to "damage,""denial,""rationalization" and other words in the therapist’s handbook. In 34 minutes, Woods never said what he did. He spoke about the benefits of rehab, but when asked what he was in rehabilitation for, he said, "That’s personal, thank you." In theory, years from now, he could claim he’d never been unfaithful, then play this tape and challenge you to prove the contrary.

And you know what?

I’m glad.

Because Tiger Woods needs only answer to his wife on matters pertaining to his marriage or sex life. It never has had a place in the sports world. But since sports and entertainment are now morphed, as are entertainment and gossip, and gossip and media, we were bound to erupt into this seen-around-the-world moment, reporters crammed into a room for an allotted half-hour with the tabloid magazines’ favorite cover story.

Out of the Woods. Newfound friends

Anyone hoping for Tiger to sink, crumble or disappear is disappointed this morning. Because this was his ricochet moment. He touched the ugly bottom with the lightness of a cat, and sprang back up.

From now on, Tiger can say, "I answered those questions." From now on, he can stick to golf, the way he wants to, and the way those milking a living out of his image want him to. For the record, Woods appeared pleasant enough Monday, he called reporters by name, he expressed gratitude to fans, fellow golfers, his family. He even called members of the media "my friends," although few if any would have thought that true before he said it.

It was gentle and slick and without rancor. He took full blame for nothing specific, save the vague crime of having his priorities messed up. And if you believe him, fine, and if you don’t, that’s fine, too. No matter how sincere, it’s fair to note Tiger was confessing to being one thing while acting like another. So he obviously has skill in that area.

You can be sure Woods – who practices every shot from every potential angle – practiced his answers to anticipated questions. He promised to be nicer to the fans. (Was this really an issue?) He explained his relationship with a controversial doctor. He said he never used human growth hormone. He flatly stated his wife would not be attending the Masters, but when asked if that meant he still should be concentrating on family matters, he said, "Well, I’m excited to play this week."

And he moved on.

Out of the Woods. Recrafting the brand

There is, for me, something too manicured about Tiger’s persona. Even when he’s trying to appear "off the cuff," it’s like the rich guy wearing ripped jeans or the politician who rolls up his sleeves in a factory.

Monday was more of the same, only now he’s cultivating a new image, a smart one for the moment, a humbled guy who thanks the fans for cheering, as if, at Augusta National Golf Club, there was ever a chance of it any other way.

But again, he broke no laws. This isn’t Kobe Bryant facing a rape charge, this isn’t Mike Tyson facing prison. This isn’t even Barry Bonds suspected of steroids. And no matter how skeptical, when someone says, "I need to be a better man going forward than I was before," well, don’t we all?

Woods never should have been at the epicenter of such ridiculous attention, any more than he should have become the human symbol for everything excellent, be it financial consulting, telephones or shaving razors. Why? He plays golf. That’s it. Admire him for his golf. Ignore him for everything else.

Could people actually do this, Woods never would have to endure a circus like Monday, and neither would we.

And we’d both be better for it.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch "The Mitch Albom Show" 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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