Tiger shows he's still a player

Tiger Woods outsmarted his critics.

Golf's biggest pimp unveiled a level of gamesmanship many suspected he didn't have after learning of his man-law-breaking text-and voicemail-message communication with his stable of hos.

No wonder Woods won't confirm the kind of inpatient "therapy" he's undergone the past two months.

Judging by what he pulled off Sunday, it wouldn't surprise me if Tiger spent 45 days holed up with Hugh Hefner, Snoop Dogg and Iceberg Slim, taking a refresher course in the pimp game. It ain't easy.

During the NCAA tournament's opening weekend and on the day our lawmakers' televised wrestling over health care reform captivated us, Tiger sauntered out from his lair and granted separate five-minute, no-questions-barred interviews to ESPN and the Golf Channel.

That's smooth. His timing was immaculate. Because of the House's passage of HCR, it would be tough for any reputable newspaper to play Tiger's interviews on the front page. Sports pages, web sites and blogs will have difficulty playing Tiger's interviews as their lead story over the NCAA tournament. The cable news networks, the referees of the Democrats' and Republicans' Health Care Smackdown, barely had room to mention Woods.

It was difficult for me to manage the energy to be all that interested in what Tiger had to say. I was worn out by the tournament and fascinated by the political maneuverings. There was no room for Tiger in my brain.

He knew it. He dictated the length of the interviews and when they'd run. He gave Tom Rinaldi and Kelly Tilghman approximately five minutes and demanded the networks not air the interview until 7:30 p.m.

He pitted ESPN and the Golf Channel against each other. Neither network had the courage to follow CBS's commendable decision to pass on the interview. Surely the executives at ESPN and the Golf Channel realized what Tiger was doing, burying what would normally be a significant news story underneath March Madness and Political Partisanship.

Of course, I blame ESPN more than the Golf Channel, which doesn't pretend to be an instrument of journalism. ESPN could've easily taken the journalistic high road and published a story about Woods and his handlers' manipulation of the news.

Instead, the Associated Press broke the story of ESPN's interview and the details of the confidential agreement that delivered Woods to TV on Sunday.

It was a brilliant move by Woods, my favorite athlete. It's exactly what I would've done in his situation.

Speaking as a journalist -- not as a Woods fan -- Tiger's ploy is another sign that he's intent on changing nothing about the way he tightly controls his public image. He's going to ration out the bits and pieces he wants us to see.

He was far more likable and relaxed interacting with Rinaldi and Tilghman than he was during his 13-minute confession offered up three weeks ago. Sunday night, Tiger came across as remorseful, humble and appropriately confident.

He didn't say all that much. His most interesting comment was his response to Rinaldi's question about how well the public knows him.

"A lot better now," Woods responded. "I was living a life of a lie, I really was. And I was doing a lot of things, like I said, that hurt a lot of people. And stripping away denial and rationalization you start coming to the truth of who you really are and that can be very ugly."

I can't speak for the rest of America, but I don't know Woods any better today and than I did before Thanksgiving. Hell, he could be living a brand new lie with himself and his family and his corporate sponsors.

I don't particularly care. I just want him to dominate on the golf course.

Rinaldi and Tilghman both did credible jobs with the interviews. Neither asked an inappropriate question, and, given their time constraints, they asked the right questions.

Rinaldi even squeezed in the million-dollar question, asking the golfer why he got married in the first place.

"Why? Because I loved her," Woods responded. "I loved Elin with everything I have. That's something that makes me feel even worse, that I did this to someone I loved that much."

The past-tense D at the end of the word "love" will be analyzed by Nancy Grace, Joy Behar, Herm Edwards and Rick Reilly, cable-TV's self-appointed life coaches.

But I'm not sure America will be listening to the debate. We're fatigued. We have other toys -- the Big Dance and health care -- to entertain us. We'll re-engage with Tiger when he gets to Augusta for the Masters.

When he arrives, I suspect he plans to tell us he's already answered all those messy questions about his personal life and he only wants to talk about golf.

As journalists, we'll filibuster, ask for a reconciliation hearing, toss around demonizing buzzwords to describe Woods and pray that he soars to the top of the leaderboard or fails to break 80 and misses the cut.

More than anything, we love a good story we can exploit and sensationalize. Tiger slickly denied us that opportunity Sunday. We have every right to be pissed.

You can e-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter . Media requests for Mr. Whitlock should be directed to Fox Sports PR .