Tiger: It's not about championships

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Whether it was by design or coincidence Monday, two side-by-side screens in the Augusta National Golf Club press room portrayed what will define this year's Masters.

One screen tightly captured the splendor of the course's azaleas that seemed fresh off a Norman Rockwell painting. To the eyes of a golf fan, the impeccable bloom of floral arrangements in places such as Amen Corner can take one's breath away.

The other screen, from a distance, portrayed a group walking up Augusta National's fairway with Tiger Woods in the middle. To the heart of a golf fan, as well as this tournament, Woods' performance can be just as dramatic, considering he has won this championship four times (1997, 2001, '02, 05). If Woods contends on the final day, general interest goes through the roof. If he is not on the leader board, a tournament's television ratings will likely suffer.

Perhaps that is why Woods' news conference Monday was the initial one for this year's Masters so he could go ahead and talk about his tumultuous five months and then simply focus on the sport in which he has won 14 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus' 18. For the first time since Woods' November car crash led to the revelation of numerous infidelities committed on his wife and his hiatus from golf, Woods was left to answer any question unlike the times he gave a public apology in February and only gave five-minute interviews to ESPN and The Golf Channel last month.

After 35 minutes Monday, the news conference was over and Woods' thoughts returned to focusing on his first tournament since the scandal and hopefully winning a fifth green jacket.

"Nothing has changed," Woods said. "I'm going to try to go out there and win this thing."

Perhaps showing his nervousness early, Woods mistakenly said he played Monday's practice round with news conference moderator Craig Heatley instead of 1992 Masters champion Fred Couples. From there, Woods appeared composed while revealing, among other things, that his lip required five stitches from that November car wreck, he missed his son Charlie's first birthday while in rehab (he refused to say what he went to rehab for) and that his wife, Elin, will not attend this week's tournament.

After saying Elin won't be at this week's Masters, Woods was left to explain why he resumed playing instead of trying to repair his marriage of five years.

"I decided to play this week," Woods simply responded.

Woods added that he received no illegal treatment from Dr. Anthony Galea, who was recently arrested with performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, Woods said he received platelet-rich plasma treatments to treat an ACL tear from 2008.

"He never gave me HGH or any PEDs," said Woods, referring to human growth hormone and performance-enhancing drugs. "I've never taken that my entire life. I've never taken any illegal drug ever, for that matter."

Most of Monday's questions, however, focused on Woods' scandal, which pushed him from the sports pages and into the tabloids and other various celebrity-gossip Web sites. From the time of Woods' accident to the time he entered therapy, he did not speak publicly and gave an explanation for that Monday.

"Well, I did everything to the letter of the law," Woods said. "My lawyer said -- gave me the advice, and I followed that advice. And I -- again, I did everything to the letter of the law.

I did talk to my sponsors and people who I was close to, and the various companies. And -- but mainly I spent a lot of time with my family."

As more details in Woods' scandal emerged, he lost sponsorship deals from companies such as AT&T, Accenture and Gatorade. The personal toll, in Woods' view, was even costlier as he had to deal with what he saw as harsh realities.

"I think one, being having to look at myself in a light that I never wanted

to look at myself," Woods said. "That was difficult. How far astray I got from my core fundamentals and core morals that my mom and dad taught me. And having to break all that down and, as I said in the (ESPN and Golf Channel interviews), with all the denial and rationalization, to cut through that and really take a hard look at myself. And that's when I started finding strength and peace."

It even took a while for Woods to realize when he hit rock bottom, as he answered a question asking whether he had tried to quit his affairs before his wife and the public found out.

"No, I was not in that position," Woods said. "I was not in that frame of mind. I was not in a place for -- I hadn't hit far enough on the bottom to make myself look at what I've done and what I was engaged in. And not until then and once that happened, then I went to rehab."

Woods talked more about having to miss his son Charlie's first birthday while seeking in-patient treatment.

"I missed my son's first birthday," Woods said. "And that hurts, and that hurts a lot, and I vowed I would never miss another one after that. I can't go back to where I was. I want to be a part of my son's life and my daughter's life going forward. And I missed his first birthday. I mean, that's -- that was very hard that day and something I regret. And I probably will for the rest of my life."

The genesis of Woods' return to golf took place a couple of days before his first public apology in February, which took place three hours south of Albany in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

"Well, when I gave my speech in February, I had no intentions of playing golf in the near future at all," Woods said. "And I just had barely started practicing two days prior to that. That was the first time I hit balls. And then I started hitting more balls and more balls. And I started getting the itch again to start playing again."

On Monday, while playing the practice round with Couples, the Augusta National patrons were extremely supportive of Woods, which caught him by surprise.

"Coming into (Monday), I didn't know what to expect with regards to the reception," Woods said. "And I tell you, the galleries couldn't be nicer. I mean, it was just incredible. The encouragement that I got, it was just -- it blew me away to be honest with you, it really did."

Woods, in turn, said he hopes to have better control of his emotions while on the course.

"I am actually going to try and obviously not get as hot when I play," Woods said. "But then again, when I -- not as hot, I'm not going to be as exuberant, either. ... And that's -- just trying to be more respectful of the game, and acknowledge the fans, like I did (Monday). That was just an incredible reception all day for all 18 holes. And show, you know, my appreciation for them."

Admitting he is just as much a work in progress off the course as he is on it, Woods also talked about how his five-month ordeal has put life in perspective.

"It's not about championships," Woods said. "It's about how you live your life. And I had not done that the right way for a while, and I needed to change that. And going forward, I need to be a better man going forward than I was before."