April 7, 2010 — -- Tiger Woods isn't just making his return to the PGA Tour this week. The scandal-plagued golf champion also is making a major comeback in the advertising world.
ESPN and The Golf Channel are airing a new Nike commercial starring Woods this evening. The commercial will air until late Thursday afternoon, shortly after Woods is scheduled to make a return to the green at the Masters tournament in Augusta, Ga.
The 33-second, black-and-white spot shows Woods, dressed in a hat and vest bearing Nike's swoosh logo, staring somberly as a recording plays of the voice of his father, Earl Woods, who died in 2006.
"Tiger, I am more prone to be inquisitive, to promote discussion," Earl Woods says. "I want to find out what your thinking was. I want to find out what your feelings are. Did you learn anything?"
In a statement, Nike said it supports Woods and his family and that the ad, "addresses his time away from the game using the powerful words of his father."
Adweek ad critic Barbara Lippert said the commercial, though "creepy," was powerful and may help repair Woods' tarnished image.
"It makes Tiger look like an angel," she said. "It's really powerfully allowing him wordlessly to rehabilitate himself. ... He doesn't have to face any pesky questions, he doesn't have to sweat, he can just stand there and look into the camera and they'll do it for him.
"No one would question the authority of his father's voice from the grave," she added.
Earl Woods posthumously has appeared in Nike ads with his son before. The month after his death in May 2006, a Nike commercial featured Woods family photos and home movies that showed Earl Woods and a pint-sized Tiger Woods enjoying each others' company on the course and off.
At a press conference this week, Woods said his father's inspiration played a role in his recent rehabilitation treatment. (Woods did not specify what the treatment was for, but it is widely believed that he enrolled in a sex addiction rehab program.)
"It's amazing how he says things that comes back. 'In order to help people, you have to first learn how to help yourself.' That's what he always used to say," Woods said Monday in his first extended press conference with reporters since a sex scandal nearly derailed his career last November.
"I never understood that," Woods said. "When I was in treatment, I wrote that down. I looked at it every day. And learning how to help myself, I can therefore, I can help more people going forward, infinitely more, than I did prior to all this."
Woods Redeeming Himself Through Father?
ABCNews.com columnist Larry D. Woodard, the president and CEO of Graham Stanley Advertising, said the commercial may convey the message that Woods is redeeming himself after losing his way following his father's death.
"It was clear that Tiger Woods' father was guiding his life, and from 3 years old to winning the Masters," Woodard said. "He did a masterful job. He got Tiger Woods to where they were aiming. And he did it, seemingly, in a fashion that had Tiger to be a good citizen, someone who realized that he had responsibilities that were greater than just personal ones. By all accounts, Tiger was towing the line."
"After his father died, his behavior changed," he said.
Emphasizing his father's memory comports with Woods' recent comments that "he's getting back to the fundamentals," Woodard said. "The fundamentals are how you were raised."
But some point out that Earl Woods was hardly a paragon of fidelity. He reportedly cheated on his wife, Tiger Woods' mother.
"All this reverence about Tiger's father really gets on my nerves when the man was a known womanizer and probably Tiger learned some lessons from him in that department," Lippert said. "To say he forgot all the great things he was raised on is not exactly true. He kind of embodied all the stuff he was raised on."
In sports and advertising, there's an incentive to mythologize the fathers of athletes, she said.
"Especially in sports culture, we have this reverence for fathers who teach their sons how to be great, how to be champions," she said. "It's not like you can make a really dramatic commercial out of a father who was really wanting."
Nonetheless, the way Nike apparently has invested itself in repairing Woods' image is unprecedented, she said. The athletic apparel and shoe company may be making such an unusual move because it has so much riding on Woods, she added.
Woods "is Nike Golf," Lippert said. "I would think a lot of people will look at it and who will be angry because they really feel like Tiger is guilty as hell and is getting off easy, but I think this is what they [Nike] have to do in terms of straight-ahead capitalist business."
Nike is one of the few sponsors that have stuck with Woods since late 2009 as news surfaced that the married Woods, once an iconic athlete and family man, has had affairs with multiple women.
Before Woods' scandals broke, Forbes estimated that the world's most famous golfer, 34, had earned more than $1 billion through his career, thanks largely through lucrative sponsorship deals with Nike, EA Sports, Gillette, Gatorade, Accenture, AT&T and watch maker Tag Heuer.
'Benefit of the Doubt' for Woods
In recent months, Gatorade, Accenture and AT&T have dropped Woods. Tag Heuer and Gillette have scaled back their Woods' marketing. Overall, Woods may have lost some $50 million in endorsements, Woodard said.
Companies began backing away from Woods in December after he announced that he would take "an indefinite break from professional golf" to deal with family issues -- most likely spurred by published claims of at least 11 extramarital affairs and reported links to prostitutes.
It was "the greatest fall from grace, in my opinion, of anybody in sports history," ABC News sports consultant and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan told "World News." "Tiger was such a cultural icon, crossing over from sports into society in such a big way."
But the advertisers who stuck with Woods, including Nike and EA, may feel that now is a good time to "dip their toes in the water" and run Woods advertising, Woodard said.
At Augusta so far, "fans are giving him the benefit of the doubt," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.