For more than four months – since the first sordid speculation about Tiger Woods's collapsing life began – the world has been pleading for a Tiger Woods press conference precisely like the one he gave at the Masters golf tournament Monday: frank, open, and perhaps most important, having at least the ring of emotional authenticity.
But for Tiger Woods, it seems, the past four months were all about arriving at this moment.
A moment when, to sportswriters' astonishment, he addressed them all by their first names and called them friends. A moment when, far from snarling at photo-clicking fans during his practice round, he smiled at them and even acknowledged their support. A moment when, in this most emotionally trying time of his career, he acknowledged that golf "feels fun again."
One press conference is not, in itself, a proof of sincerity. But it can be a guidepost. Whether Tiger Woods truly believes – as he said Monday – that, "going forward, I need to be a better man," will be the test of the rest of his life. But Monday was a good way to start.
There were still hints of the old Tiger. He was sorry, he said, that his fellow golfers had to field questions about crumpled Cadillac Escalades and the texts heard 'round the Web. And he hoped that now the media would leave them alone.
Admirable, perhaps. But also an ember of the man whose rigid control of every iota of his life led to an admitted attitude of rank entitlement.
'It was nice to see him smile'
Yet this was not the old Tiger.
Woods, the man whose blinkered focus on the links has often given the impression that fans are something to be borne, not embraced, did something odd, if ESPN is to be believed.
He looked at Ms. Mickey directly, and said "Thank you."
"It was nice to see him smile," Mickey said.
That has been a rare sight on the golf course in recent years, and Woods left no doubt as to why. "When you're living life lying all the time, life's not fun," he said Monday.
His golf has been good, and at times extraordinary, but the spark of every fist pump that set the gallery alight was more akin to anger than delight, the joy of the triumph more bestial and territorial than sublime – and often accompanied by a torrent of profanities.
He's no Arnold Palmer
Yes, we could cheer along, but we were all witnesses, not participants. Never did Tiger take the golf world along with him in his pocket, sipping lemonade and iced tea, like Arnold Palmer did.
On Monday, he gave the first small hint of a man perhaps more likable, no matter how he is swinging his five iron. The cost might be that characteristic snarl.
"I've made a conscious decision to try to calm down those negative outbursts – to be more respectful of the game," he said. "I haven't done that for the past few years, and that was wrong of me."
It is, in the mandala of a human life, a small thing. But for a man like Woods, for whom golf is but a microcosm of the whole, it is a sign that change may be at least struggling to take seed.
His great opus, he said, "is not about championships. It's about how you live your life."
Beginning with the Masters opening round Thursday, the world will get the first glimpse of whether these words, well said, will kindle into action.