Tiger wants you to forgive, and to buy new Nikes

Tiger Woods had gone home for the day by the time the cute

little kids in green hats and white overalls scampered across the

greens, and the trio of greatest living Masters champions got

together for a sentimental reunion in the par-3 contest that is an

annual tradition at Augusta National.

A shame, because even though his own kids aren’t here, the

gathering on the eve of the Masters would have been the perfect way

to show off the new Woods that we’ve been promised. A time to show

him having a few laughs with the guys and doing something Woods

vowed to do just two days earlier – give back to the fans.

A time to take some of the sting off a new tabloid report that,

if true, makes him look even more despicable. Without going into

detail, it included the words “21-year-old,” “neighbor” and

“sex.”

Who knows why he didn’t show. He may have had dinner plans or a

session with his addiction sponsor.

He might even have been using the afternoon to work on his new

cause – helping other people who, like himself, suffer from the

terrible affliction of not being able to keep their pants on when

it matters most.

So he left it to the marketing people who made him a star in the

first place. The making of a new image began not with Woods

reaching out to fans at the par-3, but with an ill-advised,

ill-timed Nike commercial.

It invokes the voice of his late father who wants to know if his

son had learned his lesson. Woods, wearing a Swoosh on his cap and

on his vest, also wears a soulful look – as if he had just been

taken to the woodshed.

It wasn’t the first time Earl Woods entered the conversation

this week. Woods brought up his father the other day, blaming the

stress of his dad’s final illness for his fondness for the sleeping

drug Ambien.

But this was even more crass. This was even more calculating.

This was flat out nauseating.

“I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out

what your feelings are. And did you learn anything?” Dad asks.

There’s no answer, but it could have been: “Yes, sir. I learned

to be more careful when I send text messages.”

Indeed, the attempt by Nike to begin trying to craft public

opinion in Woods’ favor is so cartoonish it’s laughable. Selling

shoes is one thing, but selling moral rehabilitation is better left

to those who do it on Sunday.

Maybe the people behind the Swoosh are so worried they’ll lose

their franchise they’re desperate to try anything. Or maybe they’ve

just figured out they needed to do something – and fast – because

people aren’t buying what Woods says, either.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne became the first top golf

official to call Woods out Wednesday with a tongue-lashing

delivered as part of his remarks to open the tournament.

“I hope he now realizes that every kid he passes on the course

wants his swing, but would settle for his smile,” Payne said.

The world’s greatest golfer tees it up Thursday for the first

time in five months, and for the first time since he reinvented

himself as a changed man. He’s doing it on the biggest stage in

golf, a place where he catapulted into superstardom, a place where

he’s won four times.

He’s contrite, humble, and eager to give back to a game that

made him wealthy beyond belief. He wants to be a better man, and

he’s determined to do it the right way.

At least that’s what Woods and his image-makers want us to

believe.

That’s why we saw Woods sign a few autographs earlier this week,

and roll a few golf balls to kids off the 18th green. That’s why he

actually looked in the direction of a few fans during his practice

round.

If it seems plastic, maybe that’s because it is. If Woods seems

to be following a script, maybe that’s because he is.

Fans here don’t seem sure how to respond to him just yet. Woods

gets scattered, if polite, applause and there’s an occasional shout

out of “Go Tiger.” But, while there seems to be respect for his

game, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of affection for the

person.

That could change as time goes on, he wins a few tournaments,

and the details of his sordid secret life recede from memory. It

might even change if Woods could do the improbable and win a green

jacket on Sunday.

So if you buy the new image, go ahead and cheer. Stand up and

scream for Woods the way you might have once before.

And if you really want to help the guy, go buy some new

Nikes.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated

Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org