Tiger's Masters Plan: Keep It Cool, Play To Win

Did Tiger's majorly hyped presser earn the golfer a double-bogey or a hole-in-one? Experts weigh-in

By Caitlin Millat
|  Thursday, Jun 30, 2011  |  Updated 1:54 PM CDT
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Reputation, crisis experts are at odds over how Tiger Woods should play his Masters hand.

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For most PGA golfers, playing in the Masters is their chance at the spotlight. For Tiger Woods, it's a chance to escape it.

The former champion attempted Monday in a much-anticipated press conference to begin shedding the sordid sexual scandal that's followed him since last Thanksgiving, when a now-infamous car crash began to unravel a tale of deceit and adultery that landed him in rehab and on countless tabloid covers.

Woods opened his Masters debut in the packed presser, where he apologized to anyone and everyone in the golf community, pledged to play a calm, collected Masters game, and dished -- albeit briefly -- about his 45-day spin in rehab, though he wouldn't admit what he'd been treated for.

The golfer also admitted wife Elin wouldn't be showing her face at the tournament, answering a reporter in one of the tensest moments of the afternoon to say his former golf groupie, once by his side through every hole, wouldn't be here for this one.

Now that Woods has laid out his Masters plan -- to go it alone, play to win, and keep it cool -- experts remain divided over how Tiger's strategy will play on the course and whether his majorly hyped presser earned a double-bogey or a hole-in-one.

"I have to say that this time, Tiger scores an A-plus," Levick Strategic Communications senior vice president Gene Grabowski said after Woods' meeting with the media.

"This may be the best appearance of Tiger's career," said Grabowski, whose Washington, D.C. firm has also worked with athletes like scandal-plagued Roger Clemens.

The golfer earned points for appearing "natural" and not "controlling" as in past spins with members of the media, Grabowski said -- but also admitted Woods lost some credibility for being vague in the presser about details of his car accident, his mistresses, and his stint in rehab.

"He needs a better answer. He needs an answer that closes the door" on issues like his Ambien use and adultery, said Grabowski, the head of Levick's crisis and litigation committee.

Crisis management specialist Mike Paul, however, said Woods sunk big-time in the presser, missing choice opportunities to clear the air on what Paul called his "three Achilles' heels: the drug doctor, the case he thinks he closed that could easily be reopened...and the other women who want their 15 minutes of fame."

"He should've taken the opportunity before he played golf to focus on the crisis itself, which deals with his family," Paul said after Woods' appearance.

"He continues to say the treatment is private. He continues to say that his family is private. Then why is he wasting our time having a press conference?" said Paul, the president of MGP and Associates Public Relations. "He was there for a half hour and we still have no idea what he was in treatment for."

Paul also said that Elin's decision not to show up means she's no closer to forgiving Tiger than she has been in the past.

"For him to feel comfortable enough to share with us that she is definitely not coming didn't even leave room for her to change her mind," Paul said.

"The translation of that message is that she is upset about him coming back early to play golf. She doesn't want anything to do with it," said Paul, the "Reputation Doctor" who specializes in crisis management and has counseled clients from New York Jets player Mark Gastineau to companies like Merrill Lynch.

Grabowski, however, said Woods can benefit from Elin not being at the tournament -- and refocus the attention of fans and the media back on the golf game.

"I've said all along it's better not to have Elin there. In my experience, it's better to focus on golf and not make Elin part of this story," Grabowski said.

Although Woods was vague -- and wife Elin will be a no-show -- Woods earns points for his decision to tone down his emotions on the green, said management expert Michael W. Robinson, who argues the Masters is Woods' chance to paint himself as a redeemed golfer -- and man -- willing to temper his notorious attitude.

"Every inch of this guy will be under a microscope," said Robinson, a senior vice president at Levick Strategic Communications who works with Grabowski. "Tiger needs a mulligan."

But to get that mulligan, Robinson said Woods has to be "quietly contrite," cutting back on his signature fist-pumps and angry shouts into the stands, both signs of the "Tiger of youth": the Tiger that stepped out on wife Elin Nordegren with multiple mistresses.

"He has to show a new level of maturity, on the course and off," said Robinson who felt Woods aced the press conference. "He has to proove he's a changed man."

In other words, Woods' days of yore are dead in the golf-course pond.

"He needs to be more Jack Nicklaus and less Happy Gilmore," Robinson said. "A more mature golfer."

More than anything, Woods must continue appear "joyful" to be back on the Tour if he wants to repair his broken image, Grabowski said.

"Even if he finishes first, I think he has to express gratitude for the fans, gratitude for his supporters who have stood by him, and say, 'where I finished today on the leaderboard is not nearly as important as where I finished in your hearts,'" Grabowski said.

If Woods continues the positivity, Grabowski said the golfer stands a chance at being welcomed back by his PGA pals -- and by the public.

"I think if he can show the joy, we can all join with him in that," Grabowski said. "One can never underestimate the willingness of the American people to forgive."

Woods will tee off Thursday, April 8 live on ESPN.

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