Tiger Woods needed five stitches in his lip and treatment for a sore neck after the November 27 car crash that caused his world to come tumbling down around his ears.
Just 18 weeks later he sat before the 207 selected media bruisers for what was modestly termed the 2 o’clock interview by the men who run Augusta National and walked away without so much as a scratch. Talk about float like a butterfly.
This was the third stage of Woods’ programme to rehabilitate his image following admissions of marital infidelity and it was another triumph for the American in what has been a carefully stage managed rehabilitation process.
Having given what he called a “speech” at TPC Sawgrass six weeks ago and then followed that by granting five minute interviews to ESPN and the Golf Channel, he cleared the final hurdle with relative ease when he spent 35 minutes answering the questions from people he described as “my friends.”
It is certain that Woods could not have returned at a venue such as New York’s Bethpage State Park, where beer fuelled fans have barracked the best over the years and even question Colin Montgomerie about his bra size.
But Augusta National is the perfect venue for Woods’s return and he won the battle that was most important to him - the fight for the hearts and minds of the fans, not the press.
“The encouragement that I got, it was just ‑‑ it blew me away to be honest with you, it really did,” Woods said. “And the people here over the years, I know they are extremely respectful, but today was just something that really touched my heart pretty good.”
Asked if he was nervous about his press conference, Woods addressed his inquisitor by his first name.
“Sitting here, not that nervous, no. As far as getting out there, I was definitely more nervous,” Woods said. “That first tee, I didn’t know what to expect, I really didn’t, Steve.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve never been in this position before. To be out there in front of the people where I have done some things that are just horrible, and you know, for the fans to really want to see me play golf again, I mean, that felt great, that really did.”
As far as the press conference, he took time out at the start to mend bridges with his fellow professionals and five times admitted that he had “lied” to himself and his family.
But it wasn’t long before the tough questions started coming and while he had an answer for almost every one, he dodged others in a way that revealed that little has changed the world of Tiger Woods, the self-confessed “control freak.”
Woods claimed that he would tone down the cursing, spitting and club throwing and give more back to the fans, even if it meant changing his on course persona.
“I’m actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play,” he said. “But then again, when I’m not as hot, I’m not going to be as exuberant, either. I can’t play one without the other, and so I made a conscious decision to try and tone down my negative outbursts and consequently I’m sure my positive outbursts be will calmed down, as well.
“Just trying to be more respectful of the game and acknowledge the fans like I did today. That was just an incredible reception today for all 18 holes, and show my appreciation for them. I haven’t done that in the past few years, and that was wrong of me.
“So many kids have looked up to me and so many fans have supported me over the years. (I) just wanted to say thank you to them, especially going through all of this over the past few months, it really put things in perspective for me and how much I have appreciated ‑‑ or under appreciated the fans in the game of golf.”
The elephant in the room was his treatment by the Canadian “miracle man” Dr Anthony Galea, an advocate of the use of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) who is under investigation by the FBI for bringing illegal drugs across the US border.
While he is unlicensed in Florida, Galea gave Woods blood spinning treatment at his Isleworth home four times during his lay-off following knee surgery in June 2008.
Woods denied that he had ever used HGH or any other performance enhancing drug and pointed out that he used only Galea to help him recover from surgery on his left knee after tearing his Achilles tendon.
“Well, Christine, he did come to my house,” Woods said, again using the first name of the reporter. “He never gave me HGH or any PEDs (performance enhancing drugs). I’ve never taken that my entire life. I’ve never taken any illegal drug, ever, for that matter.”
Several of Galea’s high profile patients have been questioned by the FBI, such as the New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. The Feds have contacted Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg, Woods revealed before adding: “(I’ll give my) full cooperation, whenever they need me, but as of right now they have not asked for my time.”
The mention of drugs led to questions about his use of the sedative Ambien and the pain-killer Vicodin. But while he admitted using the drugs to combat insomnia following the death of his father and his painful knee, he denied that his 45-day stint in rehab had anything to do with abuse of those substances.
What was he in treatment for?
“That’s personal. Thank you,” Woods replied curtly.
As usual, Woods was in full control. He wasn’t sub-par. Once again, he was under par and going away from the field.