Tiger's apology shows he understands the road ahead

He rambled a little, his delivery wasn't smooth, the backdrop was an awkward cross between a high school valedictorian speech and a funeral and the words weren't exactly penned by the Bard, even if his story's become very Shakespearean.

But none of that really matters because Tiger Woods was real.

And that's all we could've asked of him. He spoke to us sincerely, straight from his heart, and in his own words.

"For all that I have done, I am so sorry," he said.

He wasn't reading from a teleprompter when he said those words, he stared right into the camera, looking like a contrite, earnest schoolboy, and spoke to each of us.

I don't know about you but I believed him.

I've watched this guy under the most insane pressure on the golf course wih everyone losing their heads around him while he remained ridiculously cool and focused. He never betrayed the slightest hint of weakness.

And that's why it was surreal to see him so vulnerable Friday.

In a dark blazer and blue open-necked shirt he was the alter-ego of the superhero we've come to know on Sunday afternoons in the red shirt and black Nike hat.

Without a club in his hand it turns out he's not so immune to the human condition. And that's okay.

I hope that's part of the journey for Tiger Woods. He needs to find himself, the man within the Brand, because the pressure of being the perfect Tiger Woods can't be healthy and I think in some real way that charade contributed to his unravelling.

Woods was obviously nervous and his eyes were moist as he struggled to get out the words Friday.

And, let's be honest, they were tough words to share about yourself in front of the mirror much less in front of the entire world.

But he's never been short on courage. He stood up, gulped, and spoke hard truths.

No sugar-coating, no attempt to deflect or minimize blame.

Woods wrote his 13-minute speech himself; he insisted that there be no spin doctors, no cynical public relations mind games, no careful stage management.

Thankfully, we weren't subjected to the inevitable positioning of the jilted spouse next to him like some pathetic prop which has become de riguer for every slimy politician who's been caught sniffing up skirts they shouldn't have.

Elin Woods wasn't there, which some have been critical about, but I'm glad she wasn't. She's been dragged through enough ignominy.

"The issue involved here was my repeated irresponsible behavior," Tiger said, "I was unfaithful. I had affairs. I cheated. What I did is not acceptable, and I am the only person to blame."

This is Tiger's mess and he's got to clean it up.

That which I found most heartening wasn't the admission to a string of affairs -- we know that he knows that we know about them -- but of the attitude which allowed them.

If someone had asked me what I thought of Tiger Woods before last Thanksgiving, I would've said that he's a good guy but that he's too indulged.

What Tiger wants, Tiger gets. I had no idea just how far that extended but I could see that it was dangerous.

He was surrounded by yes men. No one would dare tell him he couldn't have whatever he desired because, ultimately, he's the gravy train.

Over the past few years, as he admitted Friday, he'd strayed from his Buddhist faith and the word was he began spending more and more time partying with other professional athletes, especially the NBA crowd. The difference was that he was married with two young kids.

"I stopped living by the core values that I was taught to believe in," Woods said.

"I knew my actions were wrong, but I convinced myself that normal rules didn't apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself.

"I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by.

"I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to.

"I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn't have to go far to find them.

"I was wrong. I was foolish. I don't get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me."

This, to me, says Woods is much further along in his rehabilitation, not just as a "sex addict" -- which is merely symptomatic of a bigger issue -- but in the broader sense, as a responsible adult, a husband and a father.

Much has been said about whether Woods owes anyone an apology, other than perhaps to his wife.

Charles Barkley once famously said he wasn't anyone's role model and objectionable human beings like Barry Bonds plumbed the depths of that kind of thinking. But Tiger Woods is different.

Woods wants to be your kid's role model.

"People don't understand that Tiger has a very good heart and soul," his mother, Tida, said after Friday's mea culpa.

In his native state, Woods is borderline nerdy in his earnestness and wide-eyed enthusiasm. He is surprisingly old-fashioned in his values, proud of what he's achieved in life, and thinks it's important to set a good example.

Maybe that's an outdated sentiment but it's heartening that some people still believe in such things.

"Achievements on the golf course are only part of setting an example," he said.

"Character and decency are what really count. Parents used to point to me as a role model for their kids. I owe all those families a special apology."

But in all of this maybe Tiger Woods can give them something more than an apology: maybe he could show them that the great ones are measured by the adversity they overcome.

And by that measure, we won't know if Tiger Woods has been successful for a long time.

As he said, his "real apology" will "not come in the form of words; it will come from my behavior over time."

So he's talked the talk, now he's got to walk that talk.

From what I hear, he won't be playing golf again until the Masters, which is seven weeks away, at the earliest. And maybe that's as it should be, too.

He's got a long climb ahead of him with crosses to bear; we should wish him godspeed.