PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had a terse exchange with a magazine reporter Wednesday over excerpts from his former swing coach’s new book, and ended the conversation with a long stare and a sarcastic, “Have a good day.”
If that wasn’t enough, he fielded 10 questions about his putting.
And so began a bumpy road to the Masters for Woods, who has gone more than two years without winning on the PGA Tour, and is approaching the four-year anniversary of his last major championship.
Woods, who last year moved to Palm Beach County, is playing the Honda Classic for the first time since 1993, when he was a 17-year-old with no big concerns except to finish high school.
Hank Haney’s book, “The Big Miss,” is scheduled for release March 27, the week before the Masters. The book is about Haney’s six years as Woods’ swing coach, and Golf Digest on Tuesday began to release excerpts through its tablet applications.
In the excerpt, Haney details Woods’ fascination with the military, particularly the Navy SEALs.
“I was beginning to realize that his sentiment ran deep, and that as incredible as it seemed, Tiger was seriously considering becoming a Navy SEAL,” Haney wrote, referring to the summer of 2007. “I didn’t know how he’d go about it, but when he talked about, it was clear that he had a plan. After finding out that the Navy SEAL age limit is 28, I asked Tiger about his being too old to join. `It’s not a problem,’ he said. `They’re making a special age exemption for me.”’
When asked about the book, Woods said his disappointment with Haney hasn’t changed. When asked his reaction to the excerpt, Woods replied, “Well, I’ve already talked about it.”
His agent, Mark Steinberg, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that Haney engaged in “armchair psychology” that was “ridiculous.”
“Because of his father, it’s no secret that Tiger has always had high respect for the military, so for Haney to twist that admiration into something negative is disrespectful,” Steinberg said.
Woods’ father, Earl, was part of the U.S. Army’s special forces.
The press conference at PGA National turned awkward when Alex Miceli, a Golfweek senior writer and contributor to Golf Channel, asked Woods if he considered being a Navy SEAL at the height of his career.
“I’ve already talked about everything in the book. I’ve already commented on everything, Alex,” Woods said.
“Then I must have missed you answering that question,” Miceli replied.
“Well, I’ve already commented on the book. Is that in the book? Is it in the book?” Woods said.
Miceli replied he had not seen the book.
“You’re a beauty, you know that?” Woods said, trying to smile.
Miceli said Steinberg’s statement suggested something was wrong with the excerpt and he wanted to know if it was true. Woods paused for a moment, said with indifference, “I don’t know,” then stared at him and said, “Have a good day.”
It was a change from the way he handled a press conference in December 2010. Tom Callahan had written in “His Father’s Son” that he would not have been surprised if Woods had followed his father into the military. Woods was asked that day where Callahan came up with that notion.
“Well, I’ve always wanted to become a SEAL,” Woods said back then. “That’s something that I told my dad from the very get-go - either I’m going to become a professional golfer or I’m going to go become a Navy SEAL.”
On Wednesday, Woods worked hard to contain his anger.
The Haney book figures to be the latest distraction for Woods, whose life has been loaded with them since his downfall caused by extramarital affairs. Since he returned from the scandal at the 2010 Masters, Woods has gone through a divorce and went more than a year before adding corporate sponsors. He changed coaches and caddies, and missed four months with leg injuries.
His new swing - the fourth overhaul he has made since turning pro in 1996 - is coming together nicely. Woods has shown greater command of his golf ball in the last four months, giving himself a chance to win four times. He won his Chevron World Challenge at the end of last year with birdies on the last two holes.
But the putter, the one club in his bag no one could ever question, has become a talking point.
Woods lost in the second round of the Match Play Championship last week when he badly missed a 5-foot par on the 18th hole. He left Arizona by saying it would take him one day to fix it.
“I had to go back to putting in the reps, and I did,” he said. “I spent almost four hours the other day putting, which was good - two different sessions … with a meal in between,” he said. “I just worked on just going back to my old basics with my dad, and some of the things that he taught me. When I looked at the tape, I got away from some of those things.”
This week presents a different test.
Woods has not played PGA National - a typical Florida course with water hazards on just about every hole - since he was 14 and lost on the final day of the PGA Junior Championship to Chris Couch.
Jack Nicklaus has revamped the course significantly since then. It plays to a par 70 with a brutal stretch of closing holes.
And while Woods looks capable of winning any time he plays - depending on the putter - he no longer is considered the favorite. That role belongs to 22-year-old Rory McIlroy, who broke several of Woods’ records in winning the U.S. Open last summer and who could go to No. 1 in the world if he were to win.
Also in the field is Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world, coming off a semifinal loss to McIlroy last week in the Match Play.
Woods also was asked why he has never hired a coach to help with his short game and putting.
“Haven’t needed one,” he said. “I think I’ve had a pretty good career.”
Greg Norman said he watched Woods at the Match Play and thought his putting stroke was different one day from the next.
“Is that a technique? Or is that tension or … is that a mental block?” he said. “We all hate being in that position. When you see the best struggling, you feel for them because you know what it’s doing to them inside. And every 5-foot putt he misses, you feel like another nail might be going in that gets a little bit deeper and a little bit harder.”