Woods not warmer, fuzzier as promised
He still swears. He still tosses clubs. His interviews, still, are clipped and smug — the few he gives, that is.
This new version of Tiger Woods was supposed to be warmer, fuzzier, someone who showed more respect for the game and all those fans who've made him a very rich man. A year later, it appears as if the only thing about Woods that's really changed is his ability to win.
No one expected Woods to become Phil Mickelson when he returned to the game following the swiftest, sharpest downfall of a star athlete in recent memory. Taming his temper and ego was going to be as big a project as his swing change and he's having about as much luck.
He'll occasionally wave as he walks off the tee, make eye contact with fans here and there. He has stopped during pro-am rounds to pose for pictures. He's even embraced Twitter, showing a charming personality in 140 characters or less. Those things are relatively easy to do, however. When it comes to basic course etiquette and being more accessible, he can't seem to be bothered.
He was fined for spitting on the green during the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year. He used enough bad language during the Masters that CBS's coverage probably should have come with a "parental discretion is advised" disclaimer. His interview with Bill Macatee after shooting a 67 on Sunday was needlessly testy, making his uncomfortable chat with Peter Kostis a year earlier look like a fireside chat.
Even when he does talk, he sidesteps the most mundane questions about how his life has changed and treats reasonable enquiries about the state of his game with disdain.
"When he was at his height, he was great golfer and had a very likable persona," said Michael Gordon, a principal at Group Gordon Strategic Communications, a corporate and crisis firm in New York. "Both are missing right now."
Woods is hardly the first flawed golfing hero. Arnold Palmer was criticized for smoking. Ben Hogan was considered aloof. John Daly makes soap operas seem dull. And even Woods' boorish antics were overlooked while he piled up wins in record numbers and closed in on Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors. If his Sunday run at the Masters was any indication, all will be forgiven if he starts winning again.
But with no title in almost 17 months, patience with his tantrums and pouting is wearing thin.
Before the sex scandal, Woods had a Q Score — the measure of likeability among consumers — of 28, second only to Michael Jordan among American athletes. Now his Q Score is 14, putting him in the same company as serial problem children Terrell Owens and Randy Moss.
"He was never the most personable athlete out there, by any means," said Henry Schafer, executive vice-president of The Q Scores Company.
"He always had that attitude. But it fell by the wayside because he was a champion.
"That's not the case now. This is where he's at and that's what people are going to focus on until he starts winning."
The spitting incident in Dubai caused so much outrage that Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson suggested this week that the PGA and European tours make their disciplinary actions public.
"I would not want to give the impression in any way that the standards of behaviour in golf are poor," Dawson told the Press Association on Tuesday at Royal St. George's.
"I think they are very high and golf is still held up as a model for many other sports. These particular incidents that we see do get a great deal of publicity and rightly so."
Woods has carefully crafted his image, and he's not about to give up that control now. But big-time sports are equal parts entertainment and athletics, and there's a price to pay for being the first $1-billion US athlete.
If Woods wants folks to shell out $49.99 for the Tiger Woods PGA Tour 12 video game or pay $230 for the privilege of wearing his TW Air Zoom golf shoes, he's got to give something back.
Otherwise, don't be surprised if fans start drifting to some of the game's other personalities — like the little girl standing behind the 18th green at Augusta National wearing a Rickie Fowler hat and Puma shoes.
"If you are a billion-dollar brand, which he is, and at the top of your game, which he is, there is a limit to the amount of privacy that a person can reasonably expect," Gordon said.
This doesn't mean Woods needs his own reality show. Or that he should become a Twitter fiend like Ian Poulter. Or that he can't throw a fit in frustration on the course.
Just rein it in a bit.
After all these months retooling his game, Woods should put a little effort into retooling his personality, too.