After clinching the Presidents Cup for the American team on Sunday in Australia with a 4 and 3 singles win over Aaron Baddeley, Tiger Woods looked as happy on a golf course as I have seen him in a long time. Tiger wasn't straining to smile as he hugged his teammates on a beautiful late afternoon at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club.
He was really happy. He wore that radiant expression that we had come to take for granted after 71 wins and 14 majors. If you turned on your television on any given Sunday in the late evening you were bound to see Tiger on your screen with that broad smile illuminated by the lights of flickering cameras.
Yet a smiling face can be a cool deception. In 2009, when he won six times on the PGA Tour and led the U.S. team to a victory in the Presidents Cup with a perfect 5-0 record at Harding Park in San Francisco, that grin was the ruse that masked a private life that was headed toward ruin.
It's been two years now since Tiger slammed his Black Cadillac Escalade into a tree outside his Windermere, Fla. home after a Thanksgiving night fight with his wife, Elin, who had recently discovered that the world's greatest golfer was also a serial philanderer.
Many questions about Tiger's sordid extramarital affairs dominated the news in the days after that night. The New York Post, a tabloid with a healthy appetite for raunchy details about the private lives of the rich and famous, would put Tiger on its cover for 20 consecutive days.
When Tiger came back to the game at the 2010 Masters after a nearly five-month self-imposed sabbatical, he vowed to be a different man. But the damage was done. The family was broken and the squeaky-clean veneer that he had cultivated was lost forever. What he had done with all those women seemed now to matter less than what he would do to rehabilitate his image and save his career.
Tiger's unprecedented prowess as a player was incontestable. You couldn't argue with his success and impact on the game. Still, I had been for years a very vocal critic of his seeming antipathy toward social issues and knack for being overly guarded with reporters. I had believed what his late dad, Earl, had said about him having the potential to have more influence than Gandhi, Mandela and Buddha. Yet now I found myself defending him during the most vulnerable period of his life.
How dare Masters chairman Billy Payne use the world's most famous tournament as a forum to publically rebuke Tiger for his moral transgressions against his family? How dare any of us judge him?
I was mad at Tiger for trying to explain his actions to the world, when the only people he owed an apology to were his wife and two small children. No explanation could adequately explain his pattern of mischief. Sure, I was angry with him for being so careless, but what did my personal feelings have to do with his life or his golf swing?
As journalists, we tried to uncover the truth of the scandal. How many women were there? What really happened between Elin and Tiger that Thanksgiving night?
It's probably safe to say now that the truth will never come out. Elin has been paid a very handsome sum in alimony and child support to keep her mouth closed forever. And Tiger has no reason to ever tell the whole story in a tell-all book.
So the 35-year-old former Stanford star turns his attention fully to resurrecting his career. And where he couldn't undo the damage that he had done to his marriage and his image, he could make radical changes to his game and the people around him. Since that Thanksgiving two years ago, he's fired a swing teacher (Hank Haney) and hired another (Sean Foley) and famously replaced his caddie (Steve Williams) with Joe LaCava. He's also left IMG with his agent Mark Steinberg.
It's too early to say what impact these revisions will have in his future, but what's clear is that Tiger is looking toward what lies ahead, instead of obsessing over what might have been had his private life not become the domain of the entire world. His last win anywhere in the world came just a few weeks prior to that Thanksgiving night in Australia. But tournament by tournament, swing lesson by swing lesson, he's learning how to win again. He may no longer be able to summon the birdies late on Sunday the way he once did before that night interrupted his path, but he's never lost his passion to win.
Nevertheless, the calmer Buddha-loving Tiger that he promised us when he came out of hiatus has never surfaced. He's less like John McEnroe than he was before, but he's hardly a happy, cheerful guy on the golf course. We don't know if he has changed his womanizing ways, and it really doesn't matter.
His children will be fine. We hope. The endorsements are coming back. The scandal was but a bump in the road. Tiger will break Jack's record of 18 majors. All is well in Tigerland. That's the script that Tiger's written for himself and it may well come true.
But that Thanksgiving night two years ago and its aftermath was a very scary time for the game and Tiger's legions of adoring fans, which had mostly come to love the game principally because of him. They hadn't been golf fans before Tiger barged into their lives with that otherworldly performance at the '97 Masters.
They were people like the middle-aged Haitian immigrant woman in my old apartment building, who hounded me daily with questions in the staircase after that Thanksgiving night about when Tiger was coming back to play. This woman will never set foot on a golf course, but she will always be sure to watch Tiger play before she gets ready for her graveyard shift at the hospital.
In a larger sense, Tiger did owe devoted fans like her an apology for taking away their pleasure of getting to see him dazzle us with his matchless gift for drama and shot-making.
Now when I see this woman and dozens of other Tiger fans, the question isn't how will he ever get over that difficult time, but when will he win again. That's cause for a smile.
Farrell Evans covers golf for ESPN and can be contacted at email@example.com.