ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – It is a measure of our society that the third, or maybe fourth, most interesting question asked of Tiger Woods during his 30-minute to-and-fro with the Open Championship press was his decision to switch front-line putters for the first time in more than a decade.
Such is life for the world No. 1 in the post-Nov. 27 landscape, particularly when the turf is hard and fast and the air thick and cool. St. Andrews was the international press corps first crack at Woods since revelations of his serial infidelity turned his life, and the golf world, into a made-for-tabloid feeding frenzy.
The St. Andrews media centre . . . eh, center, was packed 20 minutes before Woods arrived and had a similar feel to his first Q&A earlier this year at Augusta National, but with teeth. It was a rare vision of an embattled wolf being led to a mob of lambs.
For half an hour a life that has endured more humps and bumps than can be found on the adjacent Himalayas putting course was probed to a degree never before seen. At least not publically. Turns out, Woods could have saved a lot of money on therapy and just let the European press dissect his vices.
Among the volleys tossed by our cousins across the pond were questions regarding Woods’ sometimes explosive behavior on the golf course and whether his attempts to tone down has acts of anger have been successful.
“I’m trying to think I’m a better player and a better person,” Woods said.
He was also asked whether a victory this week, which would improve him to 3-for-3 as a professional in the shadow of the Auld Gray Toon, would help him along his “road to redemption?”
“I would like to win no matter what,” he said. “Winning here is one of the highlights of my career because it is the home of golf.”
In between the sordid action Woods acknowledged he was switching to a new Nike putter, the first time he’s traded “gamers” since the 1999 Byron Nelson Championship, in an attempt to adjust to what he called unusually slow greens at St. Andrews. It’s little surprise he also added a 2-iron to his bag this week, and talked about his comfort and familiarity with the Old Course.
Not that the U.K. press had any interest in golf clubs or golf.
In order, Woods was asked about his Dubai golf course project, which was put on hold when the global economy turned sour, and how his image reclamation project was going. “I don’t know,” said Woods to start a string of terse answers to rather pointed questions.
-On recent reports that he and his wife, Elin, had filed for divorce Woods offered a familiar response, “I’m not going to go into that.”
-Regarding his meeting with federal authorities earlier this month about the ongoing investigation of Canadian Dr. Anthony Galea, who has been charged with distributing HGH, Woods declined to comment. “It’s an open case,” he said.
-And whether he will ever seek out another swing coach following his split with Hank Haney, “I’m never going to rule it out.”
In essence, the Q&A may have been the worst storm Woods has faced at the storied Old Course in his last eight rounds, and it was neither unexpected nor unbearable.
If there has been any outwardly visible signs of progress Woods has made it is his willingness to suffer the slings and arrows of a suddenly less-than-kind media. He may not always handle pointed questions with the same deft touch he used to have on the game’s putting surfaces, but if body language is any indication he has at least resigned himself to a post-Nov. 27 existence.
Fittingly, it was neither the media grilling nor his surprising putter switch that was the most notable point Woods made. Of the 34 questions that were asked of Woods, at least three of his answers fixated on his relationship with his two children.
“I have two beautiful kids and I’m trying to be the best dad I can possibly be, and that’s the most important thing of all,” said Woods, who flew home following last week’s two-day J.P. McManus pro-am in Ireland to spend time with his children.
It was sentimentality, not SkyMiles, that prompted Woods to crisscross the Atlantic on the eve of arguably the most important championship of the year and, by his own admission, away from the practice tee. And whether he did it to help his public image or because he’s reached a private epiphany really doesn’t matter. In this case it is the effect, not the cause, that is important.
No, Woods really didn’t say much on Tuesday. But what he did offer was worth listening to.