AUGUSTA, Ga. — The stranger in front of the room was saying the right sorts of things. He was talking about morals and responsibilities. He was talking about lies and deceptions. He was talking about mistakes and apologies.
Finally, there was a version of Tiger Woods that made you want to believe in him all over again.
The question is: Can you?
For Woods, and for the rest of us, this is the only part of the debate that still matters. His apologies have sounded insincere, and his explanations have seemed incomplete. What remains is this: Do you believe Woods? Furthermore, do you believe in Woods?
And, for crying out loud, who is this guy?
Oh, it would be terrific to believe that Woods was really the guy who spent 35 minutes in the media room Monday, answering most of the questions thrown at him. This Woods seemed less scripted, less controlling. This Woods seemed vulnerable, wounded.
But was it real?
Or was it yet another bit of misdirection by a star nobody really knows?
If you want to blame anyone for this level of skepticism, blame Woods. He earned it. By his own admission, he has lied and deceived everyone around him for a very long time now.
These days, Woods is so many things to so many people. He is the exuberant golfer who conquered the sport at an early age. He is the ubiquitous pitchman who had his pick of endorsements. He is the star of every sleazy headline on every gossip Web site. He is the athlete who seemed to be addicted to sex and apologizing for it.
But at the dark core of his soul, in the hidden part of his heart that outsiders never see, who is Tiger Woods? Sportsman? Salesman? Skank? Some combination of all of it? Is he a good guy who did a bad thing (several times)? Or a bad guy who only wants to get back the life he had before his transgressions were uncovered?
Before you decide whether you are going to support him in his attempt to wash the tarnish off the family name, don't you need to know?
Say this much for Woods. He certainly performed well Monday at Augusta National. In his first three attempts at explaining himself, Woods had come across as packaged and as marketed as, say, Norwegian Salmon. Looking back, those three sessions might have done him more harm than good.
This time, however, Woods hit most of the right notes. For instance, there was one moment when Woods talked about how much it hurt to miss son Charlie's first birthday because he was in rehab and how he vowed never to miss another one. It was a raw, honest comment that summed up the damage Woods had caused. Even if you didn't approve of Woods, for a moment, you could feel his pain.
Still, there were moments when Woods stopped short of complete disclosure. He never said the words "sex" or "cheating" or "adultery" or "Perkins waitress." His explanations were vague, sweeping statements like "the things I've done" or "the life I was living." When asked about the details of his traffic accident, Woods merely said he had been fined and the case was closed. He kept talking about rehab, but he wouldn't say what kind.
What Woods lacked in details, however, he seemed to make up for in understanding. Even while playing his practice round, he was more interactive with fans. He seemed to have more fun. He seemed to realize if he is going to win over the public, he cannot be the same distant, hotheaded golfer he has been. He has to let people get to know him if he wants them to trust him.
Who knows Tiger Woods? Maybe nobody. He was so big so fast that his marketing firm swept him away. I didn't know him, you didn't know him, his wife didn't know him. Heck, Tiger might not have known him.
"You know, I fooled myself as well," Woods said. "I lied to a lot of people, deceived a lot of people, kept others in the dark, rationalized, and even lied to myself."
Here's the question. If a guy lied to you yesterday, do you believe him today? If he fooled you when he was juggling more than a dozen mistresses, couldn't he fool you now?
And maybe that's the key. Maybe we shouldn't talk about apologies because, after all, none of us felt any pain when he cheated. Maybe we shouldn't ask for explanations, because no explanation is going to be good enough.
What we are left with is another piece of evidence to the true identity of a golfer. This one has a bit of sleaze.
If who we saw Monday was the real Tiger, here's hoping he can wash it off.