Tiger of old threatens to make Open appearance
PEBBLE BEACH – A chilly breeze swept through Pebble Beach on Wednesday, prompting players to put on sweaters and doing little to calm their fears that the seaside course will get so fast it will almost be unplayable in the U.S. Open.
It wasn’t a lot warmer in the media tent the day before, where Tiger Woods drew a standing room-only crowd of writers for the ritual dance that both he and they seem to be finding increasingly distasteful.
Questions about the state of his game were dismissed with his usual vagueness.
Questions about the state of his personal life were simply dismissed.
“None of your business,” Woods said when asked about his marriage.
It is, of course, because Woods himself made it some of everybody’s business. He was the one who tried to stop the hemorrhaging of his public image with a national television address about his affairs, and he was the one who vowed publicly not just to become a better husband but a better man.
There would be a new Tiger, he promised us all, and soon the world would see him for what he really is.
The world is still waiting.
Woods tees off Thursday in an Open that should tell us a lot about whether he can regain his edge on the golf course. He proclaims his game in good shape and seems more concerned with trying to win on Sunday than trying to make the cut on Friday.
Indeed, his game may be better. Who knows, maybe his marriage is, too, despite the plentiful rumors that say a very costly divorce is as imminent as it is inevitable.
But where is the better man he promised? Where is the player who vowed to show more respect to the game?
Not at Pebble Beach this week, apparently. If anything, the old Woods swagger seems to be back, along with the old Woods attitude.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing for golf fans. Most are sick of hearing about Woods’ private life and salivate just at the thought of him playing down the back nine on Sunday at Pebble with the Open on the line.
NBC executives would be thrilled, too. Woods moves the ratings needle like no player ever has.
They are probably quietly rooting for an expletive or two after a wayward drive, just like the old days. Might get people afraid to walk away during a commercial break, lest they miss something good.
So far this week there hasn’t been, at least off the course. Woods seems even more determined than before to offer fans anything, whether it be an autograph or a revealing quote.
He may have discarded the dark glasses that made him look like he was in the witness protection program, but he’s clearly still full bore in the Tiger protection program.
Ten years ago he won the Open here by an unbelievable 15 shots without saying a word to playing partner Ernie Els. Now his way of showing everyone he has changed comes by offering up this pablum about his opening pairing with Els.
“It’s neat to have Ernie in the group,” Woods said. “I think we’re going to have a good time.”
Yeah, then maybe dinner and a few drinks together. That work for you Ernie?
The prevailing logic going into this Open was that Woods wouldn’t have a good time this week no matter who he was paired with. That’s largely because he can’t seem to hit it straight off the tee, a quality that is usually critically important in the national championship.
But with the forecast for light winds and sunny skies all week, Pebble Beach is growing increasingly fast. And that means Woods can hit long irons and 3-woods off the tee on most holes and rarely reach into the bag for the club he can’t seem to control.
Couple that with a short game that seems as impeccable as ever, and Woods may have some reason for his optimism. At a time where he is desperate for some validation on the golf course, a golf course that plays fast and hard could be just what he needs.
Those who got to Pebble early enough Wednesday to catch the end of Woods’ practice round got a glimpse of that. After hitting into a fairway bunker on the seaside 18th and still having a long shot left, he took out an iron and sent a screamer onto the green.
A television reporter asked Woods what iron it was and he flashed two fingers before thinking better of it.
“None of your business,” he said.
Unlike the day before, he was smiling. And that offered up yet another possibility for this Open.
Maybe he and Els will have a good time after all.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org
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