By REX HOGGARD
At 10 a.m. on Monday Tiger Woods is scheduled to take to the first tee at Augusta National for a practice round. At 2 p.m. he is scheduled to talk to the media. If form holds, expect to see many more answers coming from the former, rather than the latter.
For the first time since Woods caromed his way down an Isleworth byway in November, the world No. 1 will take to a microphone to field questions from the national media at large. But be forewarned, anyone looking for closure to the most bizarre season golf has ever known should get used to disappointment.
That’s not to say Monday’s unprecedented meet-and-greet doesn’t present a wealth of opportunity for Woods.
• The gathering will give Woods a chance to explain what happened the night his SUV plowed through a collection of immovable obstructions beyond his claim in a March 21 interview with Golf Channel that, “it’s all in the police report.” There was a reason the Florida Highway Patrol wanted a look at Woods’ medical records and, in fairness to every professional athlete who has run afoul the law of the land, he could put to rest a great many questions.
• Woods will also be afforded a chance to clarify his relationship with Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea, who is under investigation for his use of human growth hormone and who has been linked to many high-profile athletes including Alex Rodriguez. According to reports, Galea helped Woods recover from knee surgery using a process called blood spinning. Blood spinning is a legal procedure under the PGA Tour’s performance-enhancing drug policy. But it’s also a procedure that could have been administered by any number of qualified doctors. Why choose a doctor who is not licensed to practice medicine in Florida and who has the cloud of HGH hanging over his head?
• But, perhaps most pressing, the 14-time major champion will have a chance to explain why we should trust him again. During his February media event at TPC Sawgrass Woods said his actions will ultimately decide how he has chosen to live his life. Within the confines of the Augusta National press building he could go a long way to showing he’s on a new path with some honest and from-the-heart answers.
Woods’ press conference will not be about a pound of flesh. Truth be told he owes the media nothing. He can choose not to elaborate any further than he already has, put a peg in the ground on Thursday and go about putting this episode behind him doing what he does best – winning.
He may stick to his talking points, put his head down and simply refuse to submit to the impending media maelstrom. But this isn’t about what the press wants. This is about what golf deserves. And the game deserves some answers.
By RANDALL MELL
Will Tiger Woods invite us along on his journey?
It’s not something most of us are expecting when he meets the media Monday at Augusta National, but it would change the nature of his march toward history.
Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 professional major championship titles is one of sports’ great treasures. Nicklaus wasn’t just a winner. He was a gentleman sportsman who won as much respect in all his runner-up finishes in majors (19) as he did in his victories.
Woods’ march to break Nicklaus’ mark won’t be a solitary journey. Everyone who loves the game will follow. For a lot of them, it’s now a journey to dread because they feel betrayed. For them, this is looking like it will be a repeat of Barry Bonds’ miserable march to break Hank Aaron’s record.
But there are millions of folks who will root for Woods’ redemption, who want to encourage a man’s sincere desire to be something better.
Sincere is the key word. Truth that hurts will be the measure of that sincerity in his Monday news conference at the Masters.
Woods can show us the Six-Minute Man was just a start.
There were possibilities in the tone of that six-minute interview with Golf Channel and a similar allotment with ESPN two weeks ago, the possibility that he could surprise us all in undergoing a transformation beyond the way he views marriage. There was the possibility he’s interested in changing the nature of his relationship with the world.
But there was a giant dose of skepticism that came in those six minutes. It was in the sense that his relationship with the world is still built on his entitled and controlling terms. There was more than a sense of it in his claiming that “it’s all in the police report” when asked what happened in the early morning hours of Nov. 27 and in his claiming that nobody in his inner circle knew of his infidelities when published reports show otherwise.
For Woods to make this golf journey something his betrayed following won’t dread, he needs to offer truth that hurts him. Telling us what happened that night in Isleworth is a start because the events didn’t just change his life, they turned the entire golf world upside down. A general accounting matters in setting the record straight before moving forward.
Detailing why he would risk damaging the integrity of his sport in the treatment of his knee by hiring a doctor who has a history of using and prescribing banned HGH substances matters in moving forward.
Woods risks making so many of the folks who will follow his golf journey feel like the women he used if he doesn’t reach out with truth that hurts him. The pain of that truth is more than penance. It’s a sincere invitation to join him on his journey.
Tigers Big Monday at the Masters
Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause
AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.
The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.
“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”
Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.
As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.
“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”
Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid
AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.
Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.
“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”
Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.
“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”
Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.
“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”
This week, let the games(manship) begin
AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.
What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.
During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.
“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”
Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.
“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].
Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.
Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.
“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”
Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.
“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”
While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.
But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.
“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”
It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”
McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”
It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.
“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.
Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.
Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana
While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.
The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.
"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."
Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.
According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."
"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."
Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.
Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Web.com Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.
"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."
Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.