Tiger all the talk at Chevron World Challenge
“Would you like to know what questions are being asked?” Harrington said.
Westwood smiled and said, “I imagine there’s only one.”
Tiger Woods’ presence is larger than ever, even if he isn’t coming to his own tournament. As most players were getting ready to practice Tuesday, TV sets were tuned to a press conference in Florida, where state troopers declared the investigation into his Nov. 27 early morning crash was over and that Woods would be cited for careless driving and fined $164.
Then came an Us Weekly story with a woman claiming to have text messages and voice mails from an affair with Woods that began more than two years ago. That magazine cover story comes less than a week after the National Enquirer published a story alleging that Woods had been seeing New York nightclub hostess Rachel Uchitel, who has denied it.
“There’s lot of questions that we’re never going to get the answers to, and the fact that he is the No. 1 sports star in the world means that there is going to be a higher profile to those things,” Harrington said. “It is what it is because of how good he is, and he’ll have to deal with it. I don’t know exactly what the truth of it all is, and the thing is, I don’t think anybody is ever going to know exactly what’s gone on. And that’s probably a good thing.
“But it won’t stop people from guessing and questioning things like that,” he said. “That’s human nature. We’re intrigued by other people’s lives.”
Most players, even those who are close to Woods, have not heard from him and don’t know what to think, much less say.
“I haven’t talked to him,” said Mark O’Meara, who took him under his wing when Woods turned pro at age 20 in 1996.
Steve Stricker went undefeated with Woods as his partner at the Presidents Cup, and their wives walked together in some of those matches. He usually gets a quick answer when he sends a text message from Woods. This time, not a peep.
“Since I haven’t heard back, I imagine he’s in – I don’t know the right word – a lot of pain,” Stricker said. “And I don’t even know what that means. I don’t know what it’s all about. I just feel bad for the guy. He’s getting hammered in the media.”
The tournament now has taken a supporting role to the drama being played out inside the gates of Isleworth, where Woods crashed his SUV into a fire hydrant and tree, and in celebrity magazines.
NBC Sports will be televising the tournament this week, and executive producer Tommy Roy said he could not say how the network will cover Woods’ absence.
“We’ll have to see what further happens in the story,” Roy said. “Between now and when we come on the air Saturday, that’s a lot of time. We have a golf tournament to cover. It’s too early to determine what we’ll do.”
Greg McLaughlin, president of the Tiger Woods Foundation and tournament director, said sponsor Chevron would have liked Woods to be part of the tournament, “but they respect his decision, they support his decision.”
Asked if he had spoken to Woods, McLaughlin paused and said, “It’s not appropriate for me to talk about Tiger.”
The players don’t want to talk, either, although they anticipated such questions when they came to California.
“It’s difficult for me to comment, because I only know what you know – probably less than what you know,” Westwood said. “I was shocked when I heard it was a serious accident, then relieved to here he had been released from the hospital. Other than that, the rest is speculation and people putting their own assumption to things. I have no time for all that, and I don’t want to be part of it.”
Even in such an individual sport, there is a camaraderie that exists – Americans and Europeans, the No. 1 player and No. 120 player – because ultimately, the competition is between the player and the course.
British Open champion Stewart Cink pointed out that it still can be a lonely game, far different from football and baseball teams.
“It’s hard when you don’t have that built-in framework of the team, when you can sort of absorb yourself into a jersey,” Cink said. “Out here, you’re an island. When you play great, you’re an island. When you play poorly, you’re an island. And when you have some attention off the course that you’d rather not have, then you’re an island.”
Woods is not likely to play again until the San Diego Invitational at Torrey Pines, which starts Jan. 28. Some players still have the Shark Shootout next week in Florida, others will open their season the first week of January in Hawaii.
Chances are, Woods will remain a topic of conversation.
“When you’re the biggest sports star in the world, that goes with the territory,” Harrington said. “You create these stories, and in six weeks’ time, it might be somebody else’s story. We’ll have to wait and see what evolves. But the one thing that’s for sure, we’ll all be watching. As I said, that’s human nature.”
Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.
Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.
Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.
“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”
The problem was an expired visa.
Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.
No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.
Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.
His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.
One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.
His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.
“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”
He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.
“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”
'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.
Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.
“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”
Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.
The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.
“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”
Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.
“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”
Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.
“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods is competing in his first Open Championship since 2015. We're tracking him this week at Carnoustie.
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