In Tiger Woods’ forgivable mistake, there’s still a telling message

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PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. — Completely unintentionally, the Genesis Invitational has become an annual exercise in messaging. Last year, we listened as every top player defended the PGA Tour as the best place to play pro golf. This year: Netflix is bringing golf to the widest audience in the world. Also this year: Men in golf make gendered jokes. The last two are bound to intersect.

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Plenty of milk has already been spilled over Tiger Woods’ tampon joke he made with Justin Thomas on Thursday afternoon. Plenty of people will try to clean it up by shouting It’s just a joke! That’s well within their rights. But in general, it’s not very fair (or kind!) to tell people why they shouldn’t be offended by something. If they feel that way, there’s often a reason buried within the original messaging. And the truth is, no one knows messaging like Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods

There’s intentional meaning in some of his actions — like speaking out against LIV Golf — and unspoken truths in others — declaring St. Andrews his favorite course in the world. (He likes the firm turf of Scotland more than the perfect green grass fairways of Augusta National.) He sends us a silent message when he tears up during his Hall of Fame induction. And when he gives Thomas that clever grin after making three birdies in a row. Intentional or not, he sends a message via the pranks he makes during his first competitive PGA Tour round in seven months. He didn’t mean for everyone to see it, but he had to know we were all looking.

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As the host of the tournament and most famous golfer who ever lived, Woods knows every step he takes on-site will be seen, especially considering how fragile his every step looks. Every smile will be captured. Every grimace will be talked about. This is a standard different than every other golfer who ever lived, and it might not be fair, but he knows it’s the truth. And knowing all that, Woods went through with it. We don’t have to watch the video frame-by-frame to figure out what it tells us: These are the jokes he makes at Medalist, too. But the setting matters, here in his first competitive event in seven months. The first tweet with high-resolution photos has been viewed more than 24 million times.

Tiger Woods

“It was supposed to be all fun and games, and obviously it hasn’t turned out that way,” Woods said Friday after his second round. “If I offended anybody, it was not the case. It was just friends having fun.

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“As I said, if I offended anybody in any way, shape or form, I’m sorry. It was not intended to be that way. It was just, we play pranks on one another all the time, and virally I think this did not come across that way, but between us it was — it’s different.”

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