Woods needs to rebuild image in crafted comeback
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - While speculation escalates over when Tiger Woods will return from exile to competition, the execution of his comeback continues to attract widespread comment from communication experts and his fellow players.
The American world number one has been in hiding since admitting on his website in December he had cheated on his Swedish wife Elin and he has been roundly advised to answer his critics in public before reappearing on the golf circuit.
"If Tiger wants to minimize the scrutiny he'll get on tour, he has to proactively manage the situation by doing an interview before his first event back," communications specialist Michael Gordon told Reuters on Thursday.
"Oprah (Winfrey) and ESPN would be two great forums for him. Either way, he needs to speak publicly, be honest and apologize.
"By doing that, he can regain some of the control he's lost over his public image," said Gordon, chief executive of Group Gordon Strategic Communications in New York.
Eight-times major winner Tom Watson, speaking ahead of this week's Dubai Desert Classic, agreed.
"When he comes back, he has to show some humility to the public," the 60-year-old Watson told reporters at the European Tour event. "If I were him, I'd come back not at a golf tournament but out in public first.
"I would do an interview with somebody and say: 'You know what, I screwed up. I'm going to change, I am trying to change. I want my wife and family back, I have to earn her trust back'. That's what Tiger is going to have to do."
After becoming engulfed in a media frenzy following a bizarre early-morning car crash outside his Florida home on November 27, the American's squeaky-clean image was torn asunder by allegations of extra-marital affairs.
Although Woods was the most marketable player in the game, his image will need to be carefully rebuilt if he is to win back many of the fans he has lost since his stunning fall from grace.
"I really feel bad for the Woods family but I certainly feel a little different about Tiger now," Los Angeles-based golf fan, student and mother Laura Maggay told Reuters.
"My son plays golf and I have to explain to him one of his heroes, Tiger, is going through all this. And that's difficult to explain when it's someone he has really looked up to.
"Tiger has to recognize that as well. There are a lot of kids out there who look up to him."
There is a possibility that Woods, a 14-times major champion, could attract new fans now that his human flaws have been so publicly exposed.
Previously he was put on a pedestal by many and viewed as a remarkable but almost blinkered player who never really took the galleries to heart in the way of a Phil Mickelson.
"It's certainly a possibility," said British Open champion Stewart Cink, who jested Woods was made of nuts and bolts after being pummeled by his fellow American in the 2008 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship final.
"When I said that about nuts and bolts, maybe that was something a lot of people were also thinking. Now, maybe a lot of people think if you open him (Woods) up, you see a beating human heart. We all have our short comings.
"I guess that's one reason why John Daly has been so popular with the fans. They identify with him and his trials and tribulations."
Gordon felt Woods was capable of regaining his vast fan base if he acted appropriately.
"Tiger does have a reservoir of good will as an athlete -- not as a husband -- and over time he can return to his former heights," Gordon said.
"The key is how he handles it. If he continues to avoid the media and in turn his fans, he may play some great golf but no one will be cheering for him."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)