A Question of Character


2005 PGA ChampionshipSPRINGFIELD, N.J. ' My professional career and that of Tiger Woods have paralleled one another. At least in respect to service.
He left college early to join the PGA Tour in July of 1996. I did the same thing a few months later to join The Golf Channel.
Unfortunately, for me, thats the brick end to this comparison. The only thing I have on Tiger is that I eventually obtained a college degree.
Over these last nine years, Ive had the opportunity to observe Tiger on a fairly regular basis. And Ive come to respect him more and more.
Thursday was another example of why.
Throughout the early part of this week, Woods appeared loose and casual, and yet still focused and controlled. More than anything, he appeared ready to win.
A victory at the 87th PGA Championship would be monumental. It would be historic.
No man has ever won three majors in the same season on multiple occasions. Woods performed the Triple task in 2000. And having already captured this years Masters and Open Championship, he entered Baltusrol with designs on doing it once again.
But a 5-over 75 in the first round has him nearer the cut line than the lead, meaning he may be headed back to Orlando long before I return ' not that hes planning on giving me a ride anyway.
Woods has only once shot over par in the first round of a major championship and gone on to win, doing so in this years Masters, when he opened in 74.
But thats the Masters, a tournament which he had won three times before on the same course. He can afford to give a little rope in the first round and not hang himself. In his six combined victories in the other majors, however, Woods has only once opened in the 70s and has never entered the second round more than four strokes off the lead.
Tigers day began with great expectations; his round, though, began with a bogey. It would take 17 holes before he would finally make his first birdie of the day. By that time, he was already 6 over. In response, he made an exaggerated, mock bow to the crowd. They loved it.
After putting out on the ninth hole, his 18th, he signed a scorecard with more squares than a room full of Al Gores.
But following a very difficult and trying day, he talked. And he smiled. And he politely explained everything that went wrong.
He was a professional.
And thats one of the reasons I most respect Woods.
Woods is the most scrutinized golfer of all time. Everything he does is under a microscope. Everything is examined to extremes. Hes either the super greatest golfer in the history of all of golf. Or hes a bum in a slump.
Some adorn their walls with his likeness. Others throw darts at his picture.
There seems to be no happy medium in relation to Woods, which makes it all the more difficult for him to remain professional, and not lash out at the public or boycott the media or doing anything to tarnish his image.
Everyone has something to say about Tiger, and Tiger always has to have something to say.
Woods always has to speak. Always. Hes the only player today who must provide some variance of a press conference before the start of a tournament and at the conclusion of each and every round. It doesnt matter if hes leading or 14 shots back after Saturday. He has to speak.
Vijay doesnt have to do it. Phil doesnt have do it. Ernie doesnt have to do it. Retief doesnt have to do it.
Woods has to. Whether or not he really wants to. Because he knows that regardless of his score or his position in the tournament he is still either THE story or hes 1B.
Singh loves to blame any negative perception cast his way on media bias. And in certain cases he's right in doing so. But after losing this year's Honda Classic in a playoff, he stormed off the course without giving his side. He then did the same the following week when he lost the Bay Hill Invitational on the final hole of regulation.
If he doesnt want to talk before a tournament, thats his prerogative. The same for if hes not in contention and doesnt wish to speak. But when he finishes runner-up and is an integral part of the story, he most certainly should. Its the professional thing to do.
Tiger talking might not seem like much, but it is. There are over 200 press members in the media center alone, and every publication and every TV show needs a Tiger story.
Whether or not you consider yourself a Tiger fan, you want to know how he fared. You want to know what he said.
Early in his career, there was almost a certainty that Woods would bypass at least one of these five-to-10-minute media encounters every tournament. Hed shoot something in the 70s or bogey his final hole and hed walk past everyone who had anything that would record sound or video and head straight to the practice range or to his rental car.
But somewhere along the line, he learned that dealing with the press is a part of his professional obligations. Its just a part of being Tiger Woods.
So even after he shoots 75 in the opening round of a major championship, Woods composes himself, manages a smile, and expresses his thoughts in a concise and relatively genial manner.
And even at times like when the entire free world thinks youre a dope for changing your swing, you have to address it, and tell them politely that you disagree with their opinion. Because you know that the more heartfelt your challenge or denial of conversation, the more heated the discussion will grow.
Perhaps Im overly impressed with Woods actions. Were roughly the same age, so its possible that I respect his composure because I know how very difficult it would be for me to behave in the same manner.
Plus, Im a member of the working media, so it benefits me for him to be somewhat accommodating.
I know there are legitimate gripes concerning Woods, like his use of vulgarities during the course of a round.
For me to condemn Tiger for his cussing or club slamming on a golf course would be more hypocritical than a politician reprimanding a lawyer for his ethics. So while I agree that he should temper himself in that regard, someone more even-tempered than I should be the one to do it.
Winning major championships means the world to Woods. His legacy will be defined by his performance in these four events, and he knows it.
Imagine if you had the chance to do something that no one in history had ever done. And then you screwed it up. Would you want to give a press conference and tell everybody why? And if you did, would you be personable and affable in doing so?
Woods may not have lost the tournament already, but history is against him. Woods knows history. And he knows his history.
Tiger Woods had every reason Thursday to take a cart straight from the scorers tent to the parking lot. He didnt have to stop and stand in the oppressive heat and give his thoughts on a crummy 75.
But he did. And by doing so, he said more about his character than he did about his round.
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