The Six Biggest Public-Relations Blunders Tiger Has Made So Far

Two summers ago, I interviewed Tiger Woods in the lobby of a hotel in midtown Manhattan. It was purely a publicity thing: a 10-minute sit-down to promote his new videogame. But I was struck by just how professional Tiger was. He called me by name, patted me on the back, laughed while talking about his little girl and how much of a videogame dork he'd been growing up. I, on the other hand, was a nervous fan boy. Tiger Woods knows my name! It was certainly not my best journalistic moment, and I've since wondered how many women he hooked up with in that hotel that night.

As polished and media-savvy as I thought he was that day, for the last four months I've been shocked at just how inept Tiger Woods has been at responding to one of the biggest celebrity scandals ever. His press conference today at Augusta National was his best attempt yet at damage control. He actually took questions. And actually answered some of them. But it's not near enough to make up for four months of blundering. Here are the six biggest public-relations mistakes Tiger's committed so far:

Deafening silence early and often. Rule No. 1 in any public-relations disaster is to get out in front of it early. But for four months, Tiger was mute, a ghost, the only one in the world not talking about what he'd done. It took him two months to even show his face. And the longer he went without speaking, the more people wanted to know why. Tiger's initial statement, issued on his Web site two full days after the Thanksgiving car incident, was bizarre and vague, and probably made matters worse. It actually sounded as if he was apologizing for being a bad driver. Four days later, with mistresses practically falling out of trees, someone with half a brain persuaded Tiger to issue a second, longer public statement. He apologized but, again, never said what for. By then, of course, we all knew. But rather than take control of the matter himself, he ceded the story to his army of mistresses. Surely, not all of what's come out is true. But with nothing from Tiger, we're left with no choice but to assume it is.

Refusal to meet with the police in first few days. For two days police came to Tiger's house to interview him. And for two days he refused to let them in. All this did was fuel speculation that something really shady was going on, and that he must be covering something up. Also, whether legal or not, his refusal to meet with police smacked of preferential treatment, and certainly something more nefarious than a mere front-end collision.

Castigating the media. For as long as he's been famous, Tiger has guarded his privacy, choosing to show us only what he wants us to see, which has basically been a one-dimensional, golf-obsessed corporate sloganeer. As a result, his public image was pure gold, and he was the most bankable athlete ever. Tiger owes as much of his fortune to the media's gushing, hands-off depiction of him as to his prowess on the golf course. And yet he's gone out of his way to castigate the media for prying into his private life. The finger-wagging lectures reek of whining hypocrisy. Tiger's gotten the royal treatment from the media for years, and then gets all shocked and appalled when reporters stake out his family. Clearly, it's not something he thought about before hooking up with IHOP waitresses.

Refusing to go into details about what happened that night.
We still don't know what happened the night of his car wreck. Tiger maintains it's a private matter, but that argument goes out the window when someone calls the cops. Still, he insists he is well within his legal rights not to give details as to what happened, and continues to point people to the police report. But what he doesn't seem to grasp is that since he's not filling in the gaps himself, other people are doing it for him: Elin came after him with a golf club! Elin smashed out the back window of his Escalade! Tiger was hopped up on Ambien! (Which would explain why police found him slurring his words and in and out of consciousness lying in the middle of the road.) Who knows, maybe the details of what happened really are that ugly. But if he doesn't address it, people are only going to keep assuming the worst.

March 21 interviews with Golf Channel and ESPN. A month after his public apology on Feb. 19 Tiger decided to give two five-minute interviews to the Golf Channel and ESPN. Fair enough, no reason to jump right on Oprah's couch. But c'mon, those were the lamest interviews ever. Word is that restrictions were not put on what questions could be asked—and either that's a lie or those two reporters chose to ask the softest questions ever. Tom Rinaldi: "Tiger, what's the difference between the man who left Augusta National a year ago, and the one who's about to return?" Gag. For a scandal this big to have any sort of closure, Tiger's gonna have to do a big sit-down with a big name. Oh, and when that happens, someone tell him to please take the ball cap off. At least pretend you're taking this seriously.

Should've played in a tournament before the Masters
. In today's press conference, Tiger said he simply wasn't ready to play before the Masters. Which is understandable, but choosing the world's most famous golf tournament to make his return smacks of hubris. Tiger's always thrived under pressure, and it's going to be thicker than ever this weekend. No doubt, this year's Masters is going to be a circus. The first round of golf is still three days away and it already is. Had Tiger decided to ease back in and play a PGA tournament sometime in the last month, he could've tamped that down. But by waiting, he's added about three tents to what was already going to be a three-ring circus. CBS is certainly happy about it. It'll be the most watched Masters ever. But ask any of the other players if they're looking forward to all that attention and distraction.