When Tiger Woods returned to golf in April at the Masters, we all braced for the inevitable onslaught of very awkward
questions over the mess he made of his life.
For the most part, he didn’t
get those questions.The reason is
Augusta National Golf Club, and the PGA Tour at tournaments since then, denied
credentials to the likes of the National
Enquirer, TMZ, Radar, Star magazine and the rest of
the tabloid media.
What was left, of course,
were the golf writers he had faced for years in better times, on better
terms.For the most part, they had
neither the interest nor the stomach to do the bidding of the tabloids.
Still, so as not to be
accused of giving Tiger a free pass,
the golf writers poked around the edges of Tiger’s
sexcapade, eliciting more apologies and professions of remorse.Satisfied, the golf media has since largely
moved on, as witnesses by last week’s press conference at the AT&T National at Aronmink during which Tiger allowed as how he is relieved
that questions are finally getting back to the state of his golf game again.
But now comes next week’s British Open.
face a very different media in the UK.Except for The Times
of London, and maybe the Guardian,
every paper over there is a tabloid, and they compete on a daily basis to see
who can be the raciest.It is not
by happenstance that the supermarket tabloids in the U.S. have traditionally
been edited by imports from the UK.
It all makes for great
entertainment, but the UK tabloids not averse to a little exaggeration.One of the first times I ever saw the
UK tabloids in action was during the 2002 Ryder
Cup, at The Belfrey, in England.
During one of the U.S. team’s
early-week press conferences, a UK tabloid writer asked Tiger about his practice schedule.Specifically, where did he get off practicing shortly
after sunup, as is his customer, and being off the course by the time many fans
are just arriving?
Slightly taken aback, Tiger’s response was, well, if anyone
wanted to what him practice, come out early.
I was stunned to see the
next morning’s banner headlines in the tabloids, which essentially accused Tiger of being arrogant, of hiding from
fans, of thumbing his nose them, especially little kids.
That is the media environment
Tiger is walking into at the British Open.The tabloids are the
mainstream media over there.Tiger will not be shielded.
We got a taste of it a day
ago, during a pro-am in Ireland, when a UK reporter asked Tiger point-blank if his infidelities were worth the loss of his
marriage, millions in endorsements and the respect of fans around the globe?
squirmed a little, but kept his composure.The AP account of the moment described Tiger was "curt and dismissive" and "icily firm."Having watched video of the exchange, I
didn’t think he was either.
I say that not in defense of
Tiger. What got him into his
situation is indefensible, and he continues to pay a huge price for his
All I’m saying is, next
week, at the Old Course in Scotland,
get ready for Tiger to face the media
grilling he hasn’t yet gotten in the U.S.
It would be impossible to
come away from the week of the AT&T
National at Aronimink GC and not consider it an unqualified
From the golf course, which
as drawn high praise
from the players, to the fan support (45,000-plus Friday and Saturday, 36,000
Sunday, 192,633 for the week), to Aronimink’s ability to host a modern, big-time tournament,
it has all been good.
Even the weather cooperated,
which it did not the last time Aronimink hosted a major, the 2003 Senior PGA Championship,
when it rained virtually all week.
It is no secret that even before
the AT&T came off well, Aronimink had
designs on bigger fish: namely, another major to follow up on its 1962 PGA Championship. Aroniminkpresident
David Boucher acknowledged Sunday
that the club has indeed put out feelers to the PGA of America and in conversations about a future event.
"The very early stages," Boucher said of the conversations.
Assuming the PGA of America is as enthusiastic about
how the AT&T came off, the first
available open date for a PGA Championship
is 2017.The first open date for a
Ryder Cup, which is also run by the PGA of America, in the U.S. is even
further out, in 2024.
A bid for a U.S. Open at Aronimink is not completely out
of the question, although it is less likely than a PGA Championship.The Open is coming to Merion GC in 2013, of course, and another Open wouldn’t likely return to the area for at least 10 years, or
Beyond that, U.S. Golf Association officials have
acknowledged privately that when they think of Philadelphia, they think of Merion.It has, of course, hosted more Opens (four) and more USGA championships
than any other club in the country.
In addition, clubs tend to
gravitate toward one or the other, the PGA
of America or the USGA.Merion
is clearly in the USGA camp,
has more of a history with the PGA.
One other possibility for Aronimink could
be a Presidents Cup, which is run by
the PGA Tour, as is the AT&T National.Like the Ryder Cup, the Presidents
Cup is played every other year and rotates between U.S. and International
venues. The next available date for a Presidents
Cup in the U.S. is 2017, like next available date for a PGA Championship.
After a 70 on Saturday that gained
no him no ground in the AT&T
National, Tiger Woods stepped to
the microphone for his usual post-round debriefing.
Still grinding out there?
"Always," said Tiger."Always."
didn’t look happy, and why would he?He didn’t look happy on Friday, either, when he also shot even par 70
and said more or less the same thing.
For Philadelphia golf fans
getting their first up-close look at Tiger
this week at Aronimink,
the bummer is that he is out of contention – a non-factor in the
tournament -- and he will be streaking home on his private jet before leader Justin Rose tees off, let alone
Obviously, this is not fans,
tournament organizers nor the PGA Tour
want, certainly not for the long term.The current state of affairs calls to mind the old salt: "As goes General Motors, so goes the nation."
How about, "As goes Tiger Woods, so
These are not good times for
Tiger, in his personal life or in
his golf game. The possibility that nobody wants to ponder is, what if this is
the new reality, the new normal?
What if Tiger’s best golf is behind him and that he will never again
achieve the kind of dominance and success that made him a global icon?
We still see flashes of the
old Tiger, like that third-round 66
at the U.S. Open that got everybody
excited over the possibility of a major charge on Sunday.Didn’t happen.He fizzled.It was hard to tell who was more disappointed, him or golf
As the huge and enthusiastic
crowds following Tiger at Aronimink have
demonstrated, the worst of his personal problems are in the rearview mirror and
fans seem willing to forgive and forget.
What they want, and what
golf needs, is the old Tiger back.
For as long as Tiger has been on the scene, what wowed
fans the most was his awesome power.Up close, his tee shots sound different.The ball flight looks different,
But while his power game is what
drew all the oohs and aahs,
it was his putter that really won tournaments and made him the No. 1 player in
Remember a few years ago,
when the standard line in trying to describe Tiger was often, "He’s is like Nicklaus,
only with a better short game."
No question, Tiger was the No. 1 putter in the
world.Ask any player on the PGA
Tour who they’d want to putt a 6-footer to save their life and the answer was
It wasn’t so much that he
sank long putts, although he sank more than his share of them; it was that he
almost never missed a putt from 10 feet, and he literally didn’t miss anything
from inside 5 feet.The more the
putt mattered, the more certain Tiger
was to make it. (See U.S. Open, Torrey
But lately, Tiger isn’t making all those putts.He missed a baker’s half-dozen makeable
putts during his first round at Aronimink, none more telling that the 5-footer for birdie at
the 18th , which followed a 329-yard blast off the tee and a perfect
little half-wedge. He needed that
put to get him into better position for Friday, yet he lipped it out.
I was standing 20 feet away,
with a good look at the line, and it wasn’t a tricky putt – not for me,
let alone Tiger.More to the point, It was exactly the
kind of putt he used to bury 99½ times out of 100.
If you watched the
highlights on the Golf Channel, it surely
wasn’t the only formerly sure-thing putt Tiger
missed during his first round.Same thing at the U.S. Open
at Pebble Beach, and the Memorial before that, and...
None of this is news to Tiger."I putted awful," he said after his round Thursday.You can say that again.
If Tiger is going to get his mojo back, the
putter is the key.
If Tiger Woods’ image is at a rock bottom, you wouldn’t know it from
the reception he is getting at the AT&T
National at Aronimink GC.
Not only did Tiger have the largest following during
Wednesday’s pro-am, around the golf course he was greeted with applause and
pre-scandal respect and awe.No
catcalls, no hoots or hollers, no thumbs-down, no embarrassing banners being towed
overhead behind airplanes.
It almost feels like Tiger is still the host of the
tournament, despite the fact that he was famously dumped by communications
giant AT&T at the wake of his
personal life meltdown and his name was scrubbed from the tournament.
On Tuesday, Tiger was ushered into the media center
for his pre-tournament press conference, which felt no less official than when did
them as the host of the three previous AT&T
Nationals at Congressional CC in
And late yesterday morning, Tiger was seated front and center at
the tournament’s opening ceremonies on the back lawn behind Aronimink GC’s ornate clubhouse.He was right there with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and rocker Jon Bon Jovi.
So confusing is his role
here this week that earlier today CBS
Sports, which willbroadcast
the tournament Saturday and Sunday, issued a press release headlined:
WOODS HOSTS AND AIMS TO DEFEND TITLE IN "AT&T NATIONAL" ON
JULY WEEKEND, JULY 3-4 ON CBS SPORTS
Minutes later the network
sent out a corrective press release:
PLEASE NOTE PREVIOUS RELEASE ...."TIGER WOODS HOSTS AND AIMS
TO DEFEND TITLE AT AT&T NATIONAL" .....
TIGER IS DEFENDING TITLE, NOT HOSTING
Of course, whether Tiger is hosting or defending doesn’t
seem to much matter to golf fans.All they seem to care about is that they’re finally getting to see the
No. 1 golfer in the flesh.
golf’s star attraction, will be here, thank heavens, despite having been dumped
from his endorsement deal with title sponsor AT&T over his recent peccadillo.If you are wondering why he would bother, it’s because the
tournament is actually run by the Tiger
Other rising stars (and fading
stars) of note in the field include suddenly-hot Ricky Barnes, Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Leonard, Jeff Maggert, Lee Janzen, Webb Simpson, Rocco Mediate and Davis Love III.
After that, things get
ho-hum in a hurry. It is surely not to be confused with the powerhouse field we
saw two weeks ago at the U.S. Open,
or even the quality of fields that flock to top-tier non-majors, such as the Memorial
Tournament or the Quail
With the exception of Tiger, the AT&T National field is more like what you’d expect see at a second-
or even third-tier tournament on the PGA
Tour, say, the Valero Texas Open or the just-ended Travelers
Most notably absent is Phil
Mickelson, the popular and
flamboyant No. 2-ranked player in
the world. He has played in only one of the three AT&T Nationals, and it seems to be permanently off his
schedule.He is headed to Europe
this week to prepare for next week’s The
Barclays, followed by the British
But Phil is hardly the only big-name no-show for the AT&T.Of the Top 10
players in the World Golf Rankings, the only two who will be here are Tiger
(No. 1) and Furyk
Also absent are Lee Westwood (No. 3), Tiger pal Steve Stricker (No. 4), Ernie Els (No.
6) Englishmen Luke Donald (No. 7), Paul Casey (No. 8) Ian Poulter (No. 9) and up and coming
Irishman Rory McIlory
Other players who won’t be
here include Camilio Villegas, Retief Goosen,
Geoff Ogilvy, Matt Kuchar, Stewart Cink, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott.
The question is why?
Is the Fourth of July week a
lousy date on the calendar, when players want to be home with their families?Is it because the tournament is sandwiched
between the U.S Open and the British Open?Is it because of the two-year move from Congressional CC in Bethesda, Md., to Aronimink GC, a course the players don’t know?Could it be because of Tiger’s
To be sure, whatever it is, it
is not the fault of Aronimink GC, one of the elite clubs and courses
in Philadelphia, which has done all that was asked of it.
It will be interesting to
see how golf fans and sports fans in general support the tournament this
week.In 2002, when the PGA Tour was licking its wounds from
the lukewarm reception to the SEI
Pennsylvania Classic at Wayneborough CC, I
recall a conversation I had with a top Tour
He said, "Well, we learned
one thing from this:Don’t bother
to come back to Philadelphia unless you bring your A-game."
Eight years later, the Tour is back with an A-game tournament
but a B-game field.
What’s disappointing is
that, because the PGA Tour has been
gone from Philadelphia for so long, and because of the AT&T National’s connection to Tiger, it would have been nice to have a cavalcade of stars. It
would have been nice to be able to demonstrate to the PGA Tour that Philadelphia is such a golf town that it’s crazy not
to give this city a regular annual Tour stop.
That could still happen, and
let’s hope it does.But the depth
of the field this week won’t make it any easier.
If Tiger Woods is true to form, we may have just seen the beginning of
the end for caddie Stevie Williams.
In you missed it, in his interview
after the final round of the U.S.
Open on Sunday, in which he shot 75 and failed to mount any kind of charge,
Tiger did something he never does:
He blamed Stevie.
Not totally, of course, but
for a crucial club selection and plan of attack when it really mattered, at Pebble Beach’s 10th.
"I fired at the pin on 10," Tiger said Sunday. "Steve said
take dead aim right at it, and in my heart I said no. There was no chance. I
have a sand wedge in my hand, and I can't play at that flag."
That quote speaks volumes.For one thing, Tiger always refers to Williams,
his longtime and deeply loyal caddie, in the more familiar "Stevie." For another, no matter what goes wrong in a round, Tiger has never laid so much as a hint
of blame at anybody else’s feet.
is indeed out or on the way out, we’ll probably know soon enough –
perhaps as soon as next week’s AT&T National at Aronimink GC.
It will interesting to see if Williams is on Tiger’s
bag at the AT&T.Even if he is not, an announcement or full
and candid explanation is unlikely.Williams’ absence would more likely
be explained away as him taking a week off to take care of some business back
home in New Zealand.
is a goner, it would also mean that Camp
Tiger, which was already a tiny inner circle of advisors and intimates
– most notably agent Mark
Steinberg, PR man Glenn Greenspan
and Williams -- just got even smaller.
The trail of cast-offs in Tiger’s wake is already big.There was his first agent, Hughes
Norton, caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan
and swing coaches Butch Harmon and,
more recently, Hank Haney.
In the case of Haney, Tiger didn’t even
need to officially fire him.He
simply gave him the cold shoulder for a few weeks.Hank got the
message loud and clear and quit by text message.
senses he’s out, my guess is he would do the same.He may have earned an image as a gruff bully as he tried to
protect Tiger at tournaments, but Williams is his own man.Nor was he at all happy to learn of the
double life Tiger had been leading
right under his nose.
In 12 years on Tiger’s bag, Williams has
made millions and he is presumably financially set.He also has plenty of other interests, especially auto
racing. He could walk away and
live a full life back home, with his fellow Kiwis.