Okay, so I was wrong about Tiger Woods.
Don’t get carried away Tiger-apologists. I didn’t wake up this morning and become George Stephanopoulos or Robin Roberts.
Back when he held his Tiger-and-pony show on February 19th I found one thing about the whole circus act encouraging: the fact that he said this was not the time for him to think about when he would return to The PGA Tour; that he needed to get his personal life in order before even giving any thought to his golf career.
I had been predicting all along that Tiger would come out of hiding in time to play at least once before The Masters, perhaps twice. My thinking was that his so-called hiatus was little more than a PR move, that in the end he would do what was best for his golf game and wouldn’t miss the chance to add a major championship trophy to his collection.
On that morning in February I thought I’d misjudged him a little, that maybe there was some sincerity when he said the most important thing in his life was to repair his marriage and his personal life. My new guess became that he would come back in time to play a warm-up tournament or two before the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.
Well, I got it wrong.
I should have been alerted by the fact that someone told me on the day of the Tiger-and-pony performance that he’d been hitting balls on the driving range at Isleworth the day before. I wasn’t.
Now though, it seems to be pretty clear he’s going to play The Masters. He spent some time with fellow Isleworth member Charles Howell last Monday and Howell was more than willing to tell people at last week’s Honda Classic how good Tiger looked. Then, Hank Haney, his swing coach, was spotted working with him on the Isleworth range this past weekend. And Monday, Mark O’Meara, his closest friend in golf, told The Golf Channel that he “wouldn’t be surprised,” if Woods tees it up on March 22nd in the Tavistock Cup, an exhibition staged for rich people and TV between the pros who belong to Isleworth and the pros who belong to nearby Lake Nona.
This is a perfect place for Woods to make his first public appearance with a golf club in his hands. To begin with, the event is “invitation only,”—members and guests from the two clubs and The Golf Channel, which pays a rights fee to televise the “tournament.” You can bet there won’t be any media, except perhaps a hand-picked apologist or two, on that guest list. If The Golf Channel is granted an interview you can also bet it will be under the “golf-questions only,” rule.
In fact, here’s an advance text on Tiger’s answers: “I felt good. It felt good to be competing again, to be with the guys. My game is a long way away from where I know it needs to be but this is a nice way to start.”
Question: “How’s it look for Augusta?”
“We’ll see how it goes. But I love playing in The Masters.” Pause to smile. “You know it’s been a while (2005) since I’ve won there so if my game’s up to it and I feel up to it, I’d like to play.”
From The Tavistock Cup you can expect Tiger to go down the road to Bay Hill. The tournament is run by IMG and the golf club is owned by Arnold Palmer. Again, control. They won’t be able to keep all the media out but they can probably keep the gossip media out. It will be a little more of a step from the cocoon but nothing that major. Then, two weeks later, Augusta, where you can bet the green jackets will protect Tiger with the zeal of a college president chasing money.
So, unless I’m wrong AGAIN, we’re back where we started: Tiger carefully charting a controlled return, making sure he doesn’t miss a major along the way.
All of which is fine. He’ll certainly be welcomed back by the golf world with open arms and about 90 percent of golf fans just want to see him play again. I’m all for that. Just please—please—don’t try to tell me he’s a different person. The Tiger-and-pony show was a clear indication that he’s still a control freak who thinks (correctly) that he can pretty much do whatever he wants and most people will just nod their head and thank him for existing.
That’s certainly what PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem did, not only sitting in the room like one of the acolytes, but then coming up with some ridiculous statistic about how many press conferences Woods has held as a defense for his refusal to answer questions. This wasn’t about birdies-and-bogeys commish and you know that as well, if not better, than anyone.
It will actually be amusing to witness the breathlessness around Tiger when he returns. If you think people walked on eggshells around him in the past, wait until you see the ballet moves people make now. What do you think the over-under is on people talking about what Tiger has “overcome,” when he comes back.
For the record, I have no axe to grind with Tiger. He’s never done anything to me. He’s actually given me more access over the years than he’s given to most writers—which is still very little—and I’m fine with that. He’s been great for golf right up until the morning of November 27th and, to be honest, that’s been great for me as someone who covers golf.
I just don’t buy the act. I know others do. And they’re certainly entitled to do so.
Someone raised a question in yesterday’s posts about something I said on a radio show last week. Apparently there was a comment on some Maryland message board about the fact that I had said that if Jay Bilas and I (both Duke graduates) sat behind the Duke bench at Cameron Indoor Stadium and screamed at the officials all night the way Scott Van Pelt often does at Maryland games, we’d both be (justifiably) crucified. The Maryland person referred to Van Pelt as, “SVP.” To be honest it took me a minute to figure out who he was talking about.
Did I say it? Yes. Have I said it before? Yes. Look, I know TV guys are different than real journalists. They do commercials for one thing, which we don’t. Often they’re nothing more than teleprompter readers although the ESPN guys like to point out that they write their own stuff. (Stuart Scott once said this to me and I suggested he stick with the story that he was just reading what someone else wrote for him).
All that said, they are allegedly covering sports. Van Pelt has a radio show in which he interviews people and expresses opinions. Everyone knows he’s a Maryland grad, which is fine, we all went somewhere. He’s out-of-the-closet that he’s a rabid fan and that he hates Duke. If he wants to sit in the stands and berate the officials, that’s fine. Just don’t EVER talk about college basketball. As discussed here before, we ALL have opinions and we all have biases. But there needs to be a line you don’t cross if you are a public figure who is paid to express opinions and dispense news on sports.
As I said, if Bilas and I behaved that way at a Duke game—not likely since we’ve both outgrown that sort of thing a while ago—we’d get nailed for it. Maybe the fact that people just laugh and say, “Hey, that’s just Scott,” means that people don’t take him that seriously.
By the way, I get along fine with him, I’ve known him for years. I just don’t talk Maryland basketball with him because he’s completely insane on the subject. Gary Williams is a more objective observer. Now if HE wants to rant at the officials, that’s okay.