What we have here is the first superstar athlete chased down by a digital posse. Rightly or wrongly, the tabloids and the gossip sites got their man in breathtaking speed. To bring down someone as powerful and private as Tiger Woods is like seeing a lion crammed into a bird cage.
When it's all done, Woods will still be the most successful and willful and talented athlete alive, but he will be a much different person than he was -- chastened, humbled and, at long last, human.
If you know the man, the apology Woods issued Wednesday is staggering. For him to speak of "regret" and "personal failings" is unthinkable. It's like a guy who detests snakes being lowered into a pit of them.
This is a man who gives quotes away like a hostile witness in a murder trial. When he answers a question in three words, he's mad he didn't answer it in two. He doesn't even like to reveal yardage.
So all this has to be bamboo shoots under the fingernails of Woods, who's a perfectionist in all things. If he's skiing and falls, he curses himself. If he's playing video games and loses, he insists on a reset. If he's on the tee and misses a fairway, he throws his club in utter disgust. To admit moral failure is a very big loss.
Woods spoke of being "far short of perfect," but you couldn't have blamed him for not noticing. The man won a U.S. Open on a broken leg. He's the first athlete to make a billion dollars. He is on pace to swoop past Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors before he's got a gray hair. Maybe when you can make little dimpled golf balls go 340 yards and land in a target the size of a throw rug, you start to believe you can do anything in life and get away with it.
So to come out in front of the world and admit to "transgressions" and letting his family down will shake him to his very core. But, just maybe, it's what he needed.
Though he has the greatest golf game I've ever seen, I've also been critical of Woods for throwing his clubs and swearing and generally being an awful role model for young golfers. Now there's his response to the tabloid stories about his alleged affairs to go with it. None of this makes him a bad person, it only makes him a flawed person, and, now that he's been pilloried publicly, a softer person.
This will cost him millions of dollars and lots of sleepless nights, but in the end, I think he'll be a better man for it.