On Wednesday, as Palmer gave his annual “State of the Kingdom” address, one could not help but think something's missing, dug up and hauled away like that 1½ feet of bad soil that had been tormenting Bay Hill’s putting surfaces – to say nothing of its grounds crew – for so many years.
The roars from Woods’ heroics, which blended into a single raucous cacophony after back-to-back highlight-reel finishes in the Florida dusk the past two years, have faded, like the luster from the world No. 1’s pre-Nov. 27 image, and with it some of the shine from one of the circuit’s most venerable tournaments.
There was a time, not long ago, that Bay Hill Wednesday ranked high on the calendar of Tour “hump days,” right up there with Masters Wednesday and the first round of the WGC-Match Play – at least for those who carry notebooks for a living.
Palmer’s annual meet-and-greet with the press was never scripted and always special as the legend thoughtfully and thoroughly covered a potpourri of topics. From golf course changes at Augusta National to America’s Ryder Cup woes, the King delivered with the kind of insight that comes only from a Hall of Fame career and unconditional respect from golf’s body politic.
But on Wednesday there was just a single subject any of the assembled scribes cared to talk about. A subject Palmer didn’t seem to have the heart or head to address. At least not right now.
“We are disappointed Tiger isn’t here to play,” Palmer said politely when asked about his embattled defending champion. “I have an opinion; I will keep it until a later date to give it. It's not worth talking about right now, and I think that that's the best thing to do, move on.”
It was a valiant effort, but in the vortex that has become the golf universe since Woods ran roughshod through his quiet Isleworth neighborhood, there is only so much room to duck and cover.
Similarly, less than 20 minutes before Palmer took the stand, eh . . . podium, Colin Montgomerie offered a curious, “I was semi-expecting (questions about Woods).”
Semi-expecting? Either the Scot was joking, which he is prone to do on a good day, or his Woods math didn’t convert correcting from the metric system.
Palmer, however, didn’t have the luxury to move on, and, at 80, he didn’t seem to have an overwhelming interest in political correctness.
Throughout the course of his record-book career Palmer enjoyed the categorical support of Arnie’s Army, and even the thought of a crowd that wasn’t 100 percent behind him made him cringe.
“It would bother me,” Palmer sighed. “I’m a sensitive person by nature and it’s not something I would look forward to.”
Nor would a litany of uncomfortable questions from an increasing hostile media, but on this front Palmer was quick to offer a piece of unsolicited advice.
“The best thing he can do is to open up and let (the media) shoot at him,” Palmer said.
We can only assume Palmer was referring to a metaphorical shooting byway of questions, but for Woods the ordeal will likely have the feel of a firing squad when, or if, that time comes.
When asked about Woods’ chances at Augusta National, where Palmer will team with Jack Nicklaus on the first tee as a ceremonial starter, the man, who like Woods, counts four green jackets in his extensive wardrobe had no doubt the world No. 1 will be a factor come Sunday.
“It is the absolute nature of the beast, he is a competitor,” Palmer said.
As for any other advice he would offer Woods, Palmer said the six-time Bay Hill champion has neither asked nor has he offered any solace. The two talked twice last week when Woods informed Palmer he would be skipping Bay Hill to prepare for the Masters, yet even one of the game’s most valued voices was left largely silent by the moment.
When pressed for what he might say to Woods if he had the chance, Palmer paused for a long moment, “That’s the best thing to do . . . move on,” he offered with his signature glint in his eyes.
It may have been unrealistic expectations, or perhaps just a craving for simpler times. Simple advice for a not-so-simple dilemma, much like the counsel Palmer’s father, Deke, offered him many years ago when he first turned pro.
“I remember my father saying, ‘When you go out on the Tour, you just listen to everyone that you talk to out there, and they will help you. They will help you get back here to Latrobe (Pa.) and drive tractors,’” Palmer recalled.
No chance Woods ends up on a tractor back home in Cypress, Calif., but he would do well to listen closely to Palmer and, simply, “move on.”