Hooks and Cuts: Woods No Longer Mr. Popular


Arnold Palmer InvitationalORLANDO, Fla. – Among athlete endorsers, Tiger Woods' negativity rating is matched only by Michael Vick at 49 percent, according to CNBC’s Darren Rovell. That’s simply hard to reconcile, especially set against the images I saw recently – Tiger’s “better than most” putt at The Players and his mile long Saturday eagle at the ’08 U.S. Open. In both instances, and there were dozens of others, Tiger is hands down the most reliable deliverer of the greatest clutch moments you swore you’d ever seen in your life, and purely from a performance standpoint no amount of praise was too much.

Tiger crushed hyperbole, 7 and 6, and did it with a fist pump and a huge smile.  So thinking about how people felt then about Tiger, it’s absolutely mind boggling to fathom how we got to 49 percent. The awkward appearances on Jimmy Fallon's late night show and 'Morning Drive' don’t seem to be helping.  Winning will. Nothing says “he’s got his act together” quite like a victory, shallow as that sounds. The guy who won five times a year now needs one win, any win to pull away from Michael Vick or whoever the next wayward star turns out to be.

With Woods set to go for win No. 7 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, here are some more nuggets from Bay Hill:

  • Johnny Vegas recently played Augusta National in anticipation of his first Masters appearance next month. “Wow,” he said with that easy smile. “Everywhere I turned I kept saying, ‘wow.'”  Johnny’s hoping for a practice round in two weeks with Ben Crenshaw, who could conduct a clinic for first-timers on how to navigate those magnificent and complicated greens.
  • Rocco Mediate is fighting injury again. This time it’s the left elbow, having discovered small tears in the tendon, sustained, he says, during his rousing Fall Series win in San Jose last year. He’s undergone three platelet rich plasma injections over the last three months and feels better. Asked if the moment of impact is painful when he hits a shot, Rocco replied, “No, because I’m not a digger.”
  • Gary Woodland’s got Jack Nicklaus-like thighs, and like the Bear, he loves basketball. Jack averaged 18 points a game in high school and played industrial league hoops well into his 30s. I went to a Phoenix Suns game with Woodland the week of the Waste Management Phoenix Open and Suns executive Harvey Shank was nice enough to open the practice facility for us. Gary stroked NBA threes with ease, his range and touch impressive. When you see an athlete, you know it immediately. Gary’s an athlete, the kind Tiger said Wednesday that, with greater frequency, is choosing golf over other sports, just as Gary did when he walked away from college basketball at Division II Washburn to play golf at Kansas.
  • Andy Bean, 58, is in the field at Bay Hill. “I told Mr. Palmer that if I didn’t have a Champions Tour event, and I don’t this week, I’d come back,” the friendly big man with the biggest hands in the history of the sport said. Bean won here 30 years ago with scores of 68-62-67-69, beating Tom Watson by seven. How does he think he’ll fare now?  “If I drive it well, I’ll be OK,” he said. “But you better drive it well on this course.”
  • Palmer spoke powerfully Wednesday to the slow play issue: “The more people that watch pros take their time and fiddle and fuss around hitting golf shots, the more we are going to see play slowed in the normal ranks on golf courses around the country. And that is something that is of major importance to the future of the game.”
  • Lee Westwood, not at Bay Hill this week but mindful of what’s ahead, spoke powerfully on Tiger: “There’s an old saying that class is permanent and form is fickle. Tiger’s the classiest player I’ve ever played with and I’d be wise enough to know not to write him off.”