Tiger Woods really must be back on top. Because we're back to arguing over stupid stuff about him.

Earlier this week, Woods regained his world No. 1 golf ranking by winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Florida. One of his main sponsors, Nike, had its marketing posse poised and drooling. The company immediately rolled out an online advertisement featuring a picture of Woods and one of his favorite quotes: "Winning takes care of everything."

Within hours, the ad had generated thousands of "likes" and shares on Facebook, which as we all know is the only thing that matters today. There were also plenty of user comments. Some were congratulatory. Others were outraged, saying that the quote was insensitive and a bad choice to utilize for publicity purposes, given Woods' infidelity and marriage breakup in 2010.

My stance on Woods' non-golf issues has been consistent. Basically, they are none of our business. However, you know what's our business? His business. So to the extent that this hubbub affects his business, I suppose it is worth my own comment.

So here is my comment: Woods is right.

And he is hardly the first person to "reveal" this "fact."

Whether the advertisement helps Nike sell more merchandise is Nike's problem. But it is never wrong, even in a cynical sense, to remind the public how easily it can be influenced by the aura of success.


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John Madden, both as the Raiders' head coach and as a television voice, has been fond of saying: "Winning is a great deodorant." Meaning that, a victory makes people forget the bad stuff that happens during games. Woods' statement is simply a variation on that principle. He has been repeating that remark for the past few years during sessions with the press, whenever anyone has asked whether he might regain his former stature as golf's certified best player.

Woods is a control freak. It's hard to believe he does not get the final say on what Nike does. However, it is possible that Woods meant the quote strictly in relation to his game and that Nike happily used it to imply a broader context -- although the company said it used the remark simply to salute Woods' golfing success.

All right, whatever. I think we can see what's going on here. Woods is back, the favorite to win the Masters next month, and Nike wants to make sure as many people know about it as possible. Mission accomplished.

But to the extent that any of this truly matters, it should cause us to reflect on how so many of us are suckers for any beautifully clever sales package regarding an athlete's image. I'm not excluding journalists. Some of us bought totally into Lance Armstrong (sorry, I didn't) and Oscar Pistorius (sorry, I did) right along with the general public.

So here is how I prefer to process this latest Woods message: He is proclaiming a truth as both a warning and a philosophical discussion point.

Victory is great. It's fun to watch winners or be "with" them, even through the filter of a television screen. And the smartest athletes totally comprehend how their triumphant performances grant them special privileges that losers don't get. I first grasped this principle as a young reporter covering a major league baseball team. One player, a future Hall of Famer, was not happy with some of the moves made by team management. He promised to go public with them at some point.

"But I gotta wait until I start hitting better -- then come see me," he told me, drawing laughter from a teammate at an adjoining locker who nodded in agreement.

Now that Woods is also hitting better, we might see a lot more of his image-making machinery. For instance, Woods confirmed recently -- again, through a calculated social media announcement -- that he is in a relationship with Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn. I still believe that it's pretty much their business and not ours. And I'm not sure anyone should intrude with any other comments. Although, with the way it's being handled, Woods and Nike have opened the door to all of that.

Just remember, when you look in the door, that it's a carefully prepared picture, not raw footage. Winning takes care of everything. But it doesn't tell us everything about anyone.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MercPurdy.

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