Tiger Woods gave us five minutes. It seemed an awful lot longer.
That’s what happens when you introduce a new concept to American journalism: Speed interviewing, with someone who has absolutely nothing to say.
Just what Woods was trying to accomplish with his appearances Sunday night on the Golf Channel and ESPN isn’t hard to figure out. The plan was to answer some questions for the first time since his infamous accident, so he won’t have to answer them again two weeks from now at the Masters.
So there was Woods, looking as though he had just walked off the golf course. And there was ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, addressing him in hushed tones as if he were interviewing the president.
“I ask this question respectfully,” he said at one point.
You were expecting a grilling in 300 seconds or less? No wonder CBS passed on its own interview, to the credit of what remains of real journalism everywhere.
This was a race against the clock more than digging for the truth.
Get an answer right and Woods could move on to the next round. If he didn’t like a question, he could take a pass. Just make it quick because if he lingered too long there was a chance he might accidentally say something meaningful.
The biggest news was that Woods did the interviews at all, that he took questions with no restrictions. That is precisely what Team Tiger wanted out of the latest appearance, part of a carefully prepared strategy to make Woods look human once again.
We did learn a few things.
Apparently Woods had stopped meditating and that’s why he started chasing women by the dozens. He misses the guidance of his late father. And, yes, he’s working hard on being the best husband ever.
The Buddhist bracelet on his wrist? He’ll have it on at the Masters, Woods said, as surely as he’ll be wearing the Nike swoosh.
“It’s for protection and strength and I certainly need that,” Woods told the Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman.
No one begrudges Woods that. But does he need so much protection that he will only talk to friendly media faces and only for five minutes lest he give anything more than a superficial answer to a question?
Apparently so, and it may have even worked.
“Tiger Woods is following a rollout plan of slowly trying to return to normalcy and this was one of the few smart PR moves I’ve seen him make since the whole debacle began,” said Ronn Torossian, CEO of 5WPR, a New York public relations and crisis management firm. “But I still don’t think he’s seen as very believable.”
That may not be all Tiger’s fault. He’s spent so many years giving scripted answers to questions that he may not know any other way.
Even when he seems to be baring his soul, he does it with such detachment that he might as well be talking about the condition of a golf course than the condition of his marriage.
Then again, maybe he’s just a phony. Hard to tell in five minutes.
The timing of it all was certainly interesting, coming just a few days after the release of some nasty text messages by an alleged former mistress who said Woods sent them to her. If true, it’s hard to even look at Woods as he goes on about the great core values he had but somehow lost.
If the plan was to get past the sex texts, Woods probably advanced his cause. Unlike his first appearance last month, looking so staged it was laughable, this was casual cool — Nike hat, the kind of golf attire people relate to. All that was missing was the red shirt.
Expect the Woods rehabilitation campaign to heat up in the coming days. Maybe they’ll release a picture of Tiger and his family. Together. Smiles all around. Maybe he and Elin will make a public appearance somewhere.
Ultimately, the goal seems to be to portray Woods as a sympathetic figure, someone beaten down by demons outside his control. Someone struggling to do the right thing for his family. It’s the only way they can salvage the billion-dollar brand, though it likely will take years to blot the stain from his image.
They’re not off to a great start. Woods’ first TV appearance was widely panned, and the speed interviews weren’t much better.
At some point he’s going to have to sit at a press conference for longer than five minutes and answer really tough questions from a room full of media.
Only then will he be able to start putting the scandal behind him.
Until then, though, it’s all a public relations charade.