Think Tiger Isn’t Sincere? Maybe This Will Change Your Mind…
By Stephanie Wei under General

With Tiger Woods returning to golf at The Masters this week, we’re wondering if he truly is a changed man. Since the fateful night of November 27, we’ve seen Tiger speak three different occasions — his “I’m deeply sorry” statement in February and the two five-minute interviews he gave ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi and Kelly Tilghman — which didn’t tell us anything except what his talking points are going to be for the next year.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that I’d finally accepted he was a phony. But then John Wood, Hunter Mahan’s caddie, shared a story with me after he saw Tiger at Augusta last week. John’s anecdote is something we couldn’t see, didn’t see and won’t see this week, but perhaps it’s the best indication yet that Tiger is really changing. Take it for what it’s worth, but from my email exchanges with John over the past few months, I know he’s an upstanding guy whose judgment I trust. My opinion toward Tiger hasn’t completely altered, but it’s definitely softened since hearing John’s story. Only time will tell, but it struck a chord with me and perhaps it will with you, too. So here it goes…

Hunter and I went to Augusta National early for a practice round, and the most memorable thing that happened all day was a small gesture when we saw and talked with Tiger.  Obviously like the rest of the world we haven’t seen him in some time and I was a little curious as to how that first meeting would be. Uncomfortable? Strange?  Awkward? I didn’t know what to expect, honestly.

We were playing a bit in front of him, and when we got to the 16th tee he caught up and was on the 15th green.  I went over to shake his hand and say hello and that it was good to see him.  I stuck out my hand for a handshake and Tiger gave me a hug.  Totally unexpected.  Now I’ve been fortunate enough to be on a couple of Ryder Cup teams and a couple of President’s Cup teams with Tiger, been out with him on numerous other occasions, and we definitely know each other, but not more than “handshake” friends.

I may be overstepping my bounds here by telling this story, and I really debated whether or not I should tell it, but the fact that he gave me a hug said a lot to me.  It told me that he is humbled.  It told me that he is changed for the better.  It told me that he is really going to try and fix things.  Let me add that I’ve never had a bad experience with Tiger.  He’s always treated me with respect and friendship, but this was warmth. There were no cameras around and no PR machine within miles.  I think he is changed.

So with all the awful things that have come out, with all the “Bad Tiger” stories out there, I feel like the small gesture he showed towards me may help sway some people out there to give the guy another chance.  Yeah what he did was wrong, and he knows that. He will pay a penance for that for the rest of his life.  I keep thinking of that line from Seabiscuit — “You know, you don’t throw a whole life away just’ cause he’s banged up a little.”

When was Tiger known to dole out man hugs?! Thanks very much to John for sharing the story. I know you grappled with the decision, but I think it’s the best post-scandal Tiger anecdote I’ve heard, especially since it happened without the lights, cameras and media circus around. Good luck to you and Hunter this week!

–John Wood

[Photo via AP/Rob Carr]