The New and Improved Tiger

By Randall MellApril 6, 2010, 12:51 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who is this guy?

That’s what you kept asking yourself on the most unusual Monday in Masters history.

You wondered when you saw Tiger Woods keep making eye contact with patrons as he made his way around Augusta National in his first round of golf in front of the public since his fall from grace almost five months ago.

You wondered when Woods kept flashing those white teeth and shooting smiles and “thank you’s” at patrons who shouted encouragement.

This guy didn’t look like the warrior in golf cleats we’ve come to know. He looked unusually eager to connect with fans he never seemed to notice before. He looked out of sorts in the role, though. He even looked nervous in his practice round with Fred Couples.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods putts during Monday's practice round. (Getty Images)
“I thought Tiger was a little on edge,” said Jim Furyk, who joined Woods and Couples on the 13th hole.

Woods admitted he was more nervous stepping out in front of fans than he was sitting in front of media in his highly anticipated news conference after his practice round. He wasn’t sure how fans would greet him after nearly five months of reading the lurid details of his marital infidelities.

“As far as getting out there, I was definitely more nervous,” Woods said. “That first tee, I didn’t know what to expect.”

Woods was also a different man in the media room, contrite and humble answering 47 questions over 33 minutes. He seemed to be speaking more freely from the heart than he did in his 13-minute scripted apology last month and his five- to six-minute interviews on Golf Channel and ESPN.

“I need to be a better man going forward,” he said.

It was out on the course, though, that Woods most revealed the promise of an evolving new man. He’s either perpetrating another masterful deception in a bid to rehabilitate his shattered image, or he’s in the early stages of a metamorphosis as a man. Woods said in that public apology that his actions would mean more than his words in the coming months. While skeptics will wonder if this is all about rebuilding his brand, there was no denying the difference in his demeanor during his practice round.

Woods typically plays with blinders, even in his practice rounds. In the past, spectators weren’t much different than the trees he played around.

“Usually, I kind of focus on placements of shots and getting ready,” Woods said. “But today was a little bit different.”

Little bit? Woods wasn’t exactly the second coming of Arnold Palmer Monday, but we’ve never seen him lock eyes with fans like he did here. His practice round seemed to be as much about connecting with fans as getting ready for the tournament.

“Tiger was a little more chatty than usual,” Furyk said.

At the back of the seventh green, Woods made a woeful putting stroke, never coming close to the hole.

“Nice putt,” a patron yelled.

Woods turned and flashed yet another smile.

“If that’s a nice putt, I’d like to see a bad one,” Woods answered back.

The fans behind the green cackled with laughter. It was another icebreaker on this strange day. Woods was greeted politely with a smattering of applause on the first tee. Patrons were warm and respectful but not overly enthusiastic. There were shouts of “Welcome back!” and even a few “We love you’s,” but the atmosphere lacked the snap, crackle and pop you normally see in the gallery following Woods. Couples got heartier welcomes on the tee boxes.

Polite and warm was more than good enough for Woods in his bid to reconnect with fans.

“Just trying to be more respectful of the game,” Woods said. “Acknowledge the fans like I did today. That was just an incredible reception today for all 18 holes. Show my appreciation for them. I haven’t done that in the past few years and that was wrong of me.

“So many kids have looked up to me and so many fans have supported me over the years. Just wanted to say thank you to them, especially going over all of this the past few months. It really put things in perspective for me and how much I have appreciated, or, underappreciated the fans in the game.”

Couples said the conversation was all about golf.

“I’m not a life coach,” Couples said. “If we were out for dinner and he brought it up, I would give him my opinion but this is about golf.”

Couples noticed Woods’ attempt to connect with fans.

“He knows he made blunders,” Couples said. “He’s back to make up for it.”

Woods wasn’t as focused on his game, and you could tell in his waywardness. He blew his first tee shot left into the ninth fairway. He left a shot in the bunker at the fourth hole. He blew another shot in the trees at the eighth hole.

“I thought he hit his irons well, but he hit a few loose drives,” Furyk said.

Couples didn’t seem sure what to expect from Woods once the tournament begins.

“He’s the best player in the world, but he hasn’t played in awhile,” Couples said. “I’d be crazy to say he won’t play well, but I’d be crazy to say he is the guy to beat.”

Win or lose, Woods is evolving. We saw the first glimpses of his attempts to be a different man.


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Euro experience at Le Golf National 'a help to us'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 8:55 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European team has plenty of experience at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National, which has been the longtime host of the French Open.

The question this week is whether it’ll matter.

The only American player to compete in this year’s French Open was Justin Thomas. Jordan Spieth, Tony Finau and Bubba Watson all got a look at Le Golf National before The Open.

Not surprisingly, the European team has a proven track record here – all 12 players have seen the course at some point. Alex Noren won in July. Tommy Fleetwood is a past champion, too. So is European vice captain Graeme McDowell. Francesco Molinari and assistant Lee Westwood also have runners-up here.

“I definitely think it’s a help to us, for sure,” Ian Poulter said. “It’s probably the most-played venue as a Ryder Cup venue for all of the European players that have played. So we definitely have a feel of how this golf course has played in very different weather conditions. I definitely think we have an understanding of how this golf course can play.”

Of course, this setup is no different than what players typically experience as they prepare for a major championship. They’ll play 18 holes each of the next two days, then maybe nine holes on Thursday, as they get a feel for the layout.  

“When it’s the best players in the world, and we play on golf courses week-in and week-out where we have to learn a new golf course, it’s difficult to say how much of an advantage it will be,” Fleetwood said. “It can only be a good thing, or it can’t do any harm that we know the course better or that we’ve played it more times.

“Knowledge can only be a good thing. Maybe it’s a little advantage, but it’s the best players in the world that are out here, so it’s not something to look at too much.”

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First-tee grandstand 'biggest you'll ever see'

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 8:27 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The first-tee nerves could be even more intense this week at the Ryder Cup.

If only because of the atmosphere.

The grandstand surrounding the first hole at Le Golf National is unlike anything that’s ever been seen at this event – a 6,500-seat behemoth that dwarfs the previous arenas.

“It’s the biggest grandstand you’ll ever see at a golf tournament,” Tommy Fleetwood said.

“It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t had to hit that tee shot before,” Ian Poulter said. “When I think back (to my first Ryder Cup) in 2004, the stand is nothing like what we have today. So it really is going to be quite a special moment Friday, and it’s going to be very interesting to see.”

Poulter said it’ll be his job to prepare, as best he can, the team’s rookies for what they’ll experience when the first ball goes in the air Friday morning.

“The No. 1 thing I’ve pictured since the Ryder Cup became a goal is that first tee shot,” Fleetwood said. “But nothing prepares you for the real thing. The grandstand is pretty big – there’s no denying that.

“It’s something that everybody wants in their career, so as nerve-wracking as it is, and whatever those feelings are, everybody wants that in their life. So you just have to take it on and let it all happen.”  

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Impressionist Moore creates 'hilarious' video for Euros

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 25, 2018, 7:54 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The European Ryder Cup team began its week by laughing at itself.

Noted impressionist Conor Moore made a 10-minute clip in which he took turns poking fun at the 12 team members in a press-conference setting.

The video has not, and probably will not, be made public.

“It was extremely funny, I have to say,” Ian Poulter said. “Clips like that, they can help the team get together. Although we’re taking the mickey out of one another, it’s quite a good way to start the week off.”

The best impression, apparently, was of reigning Open champion Francesco Molinari.

“I think Fran’s has made me giggle for about 10 hours now," Tommy Fleetwood said. 

"Just how deadpan he was – just trying to make how excited he was with his deadpan tone. It was perfect, really. It was absolutely spot-on."

Even the typically stoic Molinari found the video hilarious.

“I’m actually thinking of it all the time now answering questions, trying to smile a bit more,” he said, laughing.

So is this the new, more lively version of Molinari?

“Can’t you tell the difference?” he said dryly.

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Woods' final round is highest-rated FEC telecast ever

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 24, 2018, 9:05 pm

We've heard it a million times: Tiger Woods doesn't just move the needle, he IS the needle.

Here's more proof.

NBC Sports Group's final-round coverage of Woods claiming his 80th career victory in the Tour Championship earned a 5.21 overnight rating, making it the highest-rated telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs and the highest-rated PGA Tour telecast in 2018 (excluding majors).

The rating was up 206 percent over 2017's Tour Championship.

Final FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Coverage peaked from 5:30-6PM ET (7.19) as Woods finished his round and as Justin Rose was being crowned the FedExCup champion. That number trailed only the 2018 peaks for the Masters (11.03) and PGA Championship (8.28). The extended coverage window (1:30-6:15 PM ET) posted a 4.35 overnight rating, which is the highest-rated Tour Championship telecast on record.

Sunday’s final round also saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (up 561 percent year-over-year), and becomes the most-streamed NBC Sports Sunday round (excluding majors) on record.