It’s been like that a lot lately.
Woods spent Tuesday at Augusta National, his second straight day of practice as he prepares to enter his new world of golf in two weeks at the Masters. Speculation is as prolific as the tabloid reports on his extramarital affairs.
How will the gallery respond to him?
Which two players will be in his group for the first two rounds in what figures to be a circus like no other?
What will he say to the media?
Such are the inquiries at the Arnold Palmer Invitational because Woods isn’t around to answer the questions himself. His only interviews came Sunday evening with ESPN and the Golf Channel, both lasting five minutes, neither revealing very much.
Jim Furyk won the Transitions Championship and walked into his press conference holding a three-page transcript of Woods’ interview. Players headed to the putting green or the practice range at Bay Hill, and whenever they saw a camera, a tape recorder or simply a media badge, the topic was predictable.
By now, they should be used to it.
“For a guy not being around, he sure has drawn a lot of attention, and rightly so,” Steve Stricker said. “It’s been a weekly thing. That’s why it will be good to get him out here, to get him back playing, to get that behind him – and us. Not only him, but it’s been difficult for us, too. Things are changing on a daily basis. We have to stay on top of it so we can be somewhat responsive to those questions.”
Geoff Ogilvy defended his title in the season-opening SBS Championship and was asked how much longer Woods would be a topic. “It’s going to linger for a while,” he said.
Woods was always going to be a topic at Torrey Pines, where he has won seven times as a pro. Perhaps it was merely a coincidence that the winner was Ben Crane, one of the players unwittingly dragged into his story when a magazine quoted Crane as making disparaging comments about Woods’ marriage – even though Crane said he hadn’t spoken to anyone at the magazine or in the media for three months.
Wood became the story at the Accenture Match Play Championship when it was announced during the first round that he would be making his first public appearance, and speaking during the third round.
Then came news, three weeks later at Doral, that he would return to competition at the Masters. Later, Furyk ended more than two years without a victory by winning at Innisbrook about the time Woods was giving his TV interviews Sunday.
Woods hasn’t played the first three months. That hasn’t made it a quiet three months, except for outside the ropes.
“The fact he’s not playing, he’s still the No. 1 story on our tour – if he chooses to be,” Paul Goydos said. “He did the interview during Accenture. He did an interview Sunday. … I didn’t even know he was doing the interview. I was watching basketball.”
Goydos says the last three months are far different from the eight months when Woods was recovering from knee surgery. He was out of sight, and only on anyone’s mind when Padraig Harrington was foolishly asked if his two major victories required an asterisk because Woods was missing.
“When he was hurt, that one you didn’t hear too much,” Goydos said. “People didn’t make that big of a deal about it. I would make the argument that this has been no different from when he’s playing.”
And when he’s playing, rarely is there an interview with other players that doesn’t include a question about what Woods shot that day.
“I haven’t played good enough to have a whole lot of media attention,” Scott Verplank said. “But I’m sure when you go into the media room after a good round they’re not asking you about Tiger’s round. You’ve got to go to TMZ or the National Enquirer to find out what he did. So that’s different.”
There have been other differences over the last three months.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but it seems fewer players have made the cover of golf magazines – Ogilvy, Hunter Mahan and Ernie Els made the cover of the two main publications. Other weeks have featured golf courses or a sand wedge (grooves debate).
Galleries have been noticeably thin, sometime for reasons beyond Woods, such as Super Bowl Sunday, a rare Monday finish at the Bob Hope Classic and cold weather in Arizona.
“It’s been pretty quiet,” Mahan said. “Everyone is playing golf without him, like they did for six months (with his knee surgery). But I think he’s going to bring a whole new audience to golf when he comes back.”
It will be a golf-friendly crowd to start with – the Masters ticket is among the toughest in sports.
But after that?
“There’s not as much buzz,” Verplank said. “That’s getting ready to change.”
Stricker is as curious how the players will respond to Woods, although he figures that will get back to normal in no time. His greater concern is how the gallery will respond. Every tournament seems to have one hole where the crowd is a little more vocal, such as the 16th hole at Phoenix, the 17th at The Players Championship or the amphitheater behind the 12th green at Muirfield Village.
Then again, that might not last long, either.
“I think we’ll have more of a Phoenix atmosphere for a short time. But after he wins three of his first four starts and he’s on his way to the Grand Slam,” said Goydos, pausing to smile, “then it will be back to normal.”