Woods still holds all the cards in world of golf


MARANA, Ariz. – PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem might have set a record by meeting with the media three times in five days. The first session Wednesday was to say very little. The third one Sunday was to take blame for not saying enough. In between was a news conference at the Sawgrass Marriott before more media than ever has covered The Players Championship.

Ernie Els was upset, and this was after he won his match.

Upon hearing that Woods was to speak in the middle of the first World Golf Championship of the year, Els tried to choose his words carefully until he said to Golfweek magazine, “It’s selfish.” And that was putting it mildly.

Other players who felt just as strongly managed to bite their tongues, or at least ask that tape recorders be turned off.

Ian Poulter inquired about the scene at the TPC Sawgrass during his final match, and when it was suggested that the only new development was Woods being seen and heard, Poulter stretched out his arms as if to say, “There is nothing else to add.”

Not that someone didn’t try.

After winning the Match Play Championship – the biggest win of his career and his first victory on American soil – the Englishman dressed all in pink nearly turned red when he heard a question from the back of the room.

“Does the Tiger Woods drama take away or diminish this championship to you in any way, just the media attention?”

Poulter’s eyes widened and he stared for a second.

“Next question,” he replied.

Some players get tired of taking Tiger questions when he’s winning all the time. They don’t like them any more when he’s simply reading a statement into a camera.

The Golf Writers Association of America usually doesn’t get this worked up unless the shuttle bus at the U.S. Open is running late. Woods created a flurry of passionate opinions that led the group to reject an offer of three seats in the room where Woods spoke, lobby for more reporters, receive a compromise of six seats, then vote 19-3 (with four abstentions) not to participate.

Could this all have been avoided? Woods said he was on a break from therapy (without saying what kind of therapy) and was to return the next day. Even if he had waited until the tournament was over, and had spoken on Monday, it still would have meant notifying everyone on Saturday – and that would have stolen attention away from Poulter’s 7-and-6 semifinal victory over Sergio Garcia.

In the end, the resentment was over Woods still calling the shots. Most agree that he should have lost that right through so many selfish decisions that culminated with a sordid sex scandal, which brought disgrace to his family and damage to a sport that made him who he is, or was. It may be years before the extent of that damage is known.

His management team could have diffused some of the resentment by making more clear what this event was all about. The first word was an e-mail to say Woods was going to speak to a small group of associates and friends, and while it was not an open media event, “it is understood that there are many media who are interested in what he has to say.”

Then came word that pool reporters – three wire services, three picked by the GWAA – would not be allowed to ask questions. It appeared to be another outrageous attempt to control the media.

For now, however, Woods does have the right to speak on his terms. He is not playing golf.

That day is coming, even if no one knows when. Woods only said that he would not rule out him playing this year. Once he returns to the PGA Tour, the only control he has over the media is what he chooses to answer. He can say he won’t discuss his personal life. That won’t stop the questions, and dodging them won’t do him any good.

Former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson chose to speak to only five reporters during the nine months that Martha Burk became part of the golf vernacular with her campaign for Augusta National to have a female member.

Johnson was flanked by 60 members in green jackets when he spoke for the first time on the Wednesday before the 2003 Masters. He concluded his opening remarks by saying, “I will have nothing further to add about our membership or related issues.” Then came more than 30 questions related to the controversy, and Johnson answered them all (just not to the media’s liking).

The Masters has tight restrictions on the media that gets a credential, just not the questions they ask.

The ultimate question – whenever he decides to play – is how Woods chooses to answer them.