On Saturday night I went to dinner with a group that included Paul Goydos, who people on the golf tour half-jokingly refer to as, “my guy,” because we’ve been friends since 1993 and because I openly root for him to play well. In fact, I felt a little bit guilty on Sunday when he played an awful final round at The Players Championship to drop from a tie for 15th to a tie for 52nd. In the vernacular of golfers, he spent a lot of cash on Sunday.
I like Paul because he’s smart and opinionated and funny and never afraid to share his opinions. On Saturday, as is always the case when people who care about golf get together, the subject turned inevitably to Tiger Woods.
“You write about him every day,” Paul said—referring to this blog and, as always, exaggerating, if only a little bit. “You just can’t resist.”
I told him he was right—and wrong. It isn’t so much that I can’t resist, it’s that the guy simply can’t stay out of the news these days. He’s a train wreck right now that keeps barreling through barriers day after day.
If there was ever a weekend when Woods should have been an after thought, it was this past one. He did NOT miss the cut at The Players so there was no reason for people to go off on tangents about the fact that he had missed consecutive cuts for the first time in his career. He did NOT make any kind of a move on the leaders on Saturday (Phil Mickelson did). He played early, finished bogey-bogey to shoot a one-under-par 71 and was tied for 39th place.
The only thing that even approached a news-making moment came as he was walking into the scoring cabin after finishing his round. Mickelson was standing outside signing autographs when a little boy, no more than 7 or 8-years-old, actually began heckling Tiger, saying something like, “You can forget about being number one Tiger, it’s over!”
Woods kept walking. Mickelson leaned down to the youngster and said, “hey come on, be polite.”
Sunday should have been a quick and easy day for Woods: play early (10:30 tee time) finish back in the pack and head for his plane to fly to Philadelphia for a media day scheduled Monday to promote The AT+T Invitational NOT hosted by Tiger Woods (according to a PGA Tour edict) but still benefiting his foundation and still being run by his employees. (A subject for another day).
Except it didn’t turn out that way. After two early bogeys and after missing the green at the 7th hole, Woods shook hands with fellow competitor Jason Bohn and told officials he was withdrawing. His neck hurt. Bohn, who has had serious back and neck problems in his career, said later he could see Woods was in pain.
And so, the last day of The Players Championship became NOT about eventual winner Tim Clark or runner-up Robert Allenby or Mickelson or anyone else in the field. It became about the pain in Tiger Woods’ neck. When Tiger’s neck hurts, the golf world needs therapy.
No sane person would question Woods’ pain threshold. He won the United States Open in 2008 playing on a broken leg. He’s had all sorts of physical problems throughout his career and played through them. Here’s what you do question: On Friday, after a desultory 71 left him well back in the pack, someone asked Woods how his knee felt. “Knee’s good,” he answered. Asked if he had any physical issues at all, Woods said: “No. Zero. Absolutely 100 percent.”
On Sunday, when Woods was asked by a small gaggle of reporters in the locker room what had happened on the golf course his first answer—helpful as always—was, “I withdrew.”
When he finally elaborated, he said his neck hurt; that he might have a bulging disc, that he’d been playing in pain for, “quite a while,” and that the neck problem had started before The Masters. Check me if I’m wrong on this: Is that the same as, “zero, absolutely, 100 percent?”
There are two issues here: the first is the fact that Woods and his IMG/Tiger Woods Inc. spin doctors simply refuse to give straight answers to straight questions. Is golf now hockey? Is Woods afraid that Mickelson will check him into a tree if he thinks his neck is sore? Maybe Woods should have told people Sunday he has “an upper body injury.”
If he was hurt before The Masters why did he play The Masters? If the pain was getting worse, why continue in a tournament that really means nothing to him? Neck injuries are a serious deal. They can ruin a golfer’s career (Jerry Pate comes to mind). Why mess with it at all if there was ANY kind of pain? Let’s not go down the path of, “he wanted to finish what he started,” because there isn’t a soul alive who is going to blame a player—especially one who is injury-prone to begin with—for being careful about an injury like this one.
If Woods would just answer direct questions directly—no one is sure to this moment whether Hank Haney is fired or not fired, his denial was a non-denial denial earlier in the week; no one knows if the clubs on e-bay were his or not although every equipment rep in golf swears that the ex-Titleist rep who put them up for sale is telling the truth—we all wouldn’t be left to speculate on what this means or what that means. Reading Tiger-talk right now is like plowing through a Latin test.
Of course there are far more important questions going on here. Does his neck need a massage or surgery? Should he even be trying to play golf right now? After Tiger had Left The Building on Sunday surrounded by EIGHT sheriff’s deputies plus his usual posse, I talked to a couple of players—no, Goydos wasn’t one of them—who have gone through a divorce.
Both made the same point: It took them at least a year, maybe longer, to even think about focusing on golf. The circumstances of the divorce don’t matter; nor does it matter who is to blame for it. “All you can think about,” said one, “is what’s going to happen to my children? Even Tiger Woods HAS to be affected by that.”
Maybe Woods’ neck will leave him no choice but to take an extended break from golf. Or maybe he’ll play more often than he planned—something he hinted at Friday while telling people he was 100 percent healthy—to get ready for the U.S. Open. But one thing one player said on Sunday resonates with me: “When he said at that first public appearance that it would be a while before he played golf I thought, ‘that’s the right play.’ I wish he’d stuck to that.”
Right now, Woods may be wishing that too. Of course he’s not about to tell us what he’s wishing or thinking anytime soon.
Paul, my apologies. I will try my best not to write about Tiger again anytime soon. But you might want to talk to HIM too. Believe me, I’d have rather have written about Dallas Braden’s perfect game today.
Several people asked last week for more details on, ‘Moment of Glory,” which will officially be published on Thursday. I will write about it later in the week but it is on sale online right now and at most bookstores. One person raised a question: How have most of my subjects reacted to the books I’ve written. I can honestly say that, with the notable exception of Bob Knight, I think just about everyone I’ve written about in detail has either been happy with what I’ve written or believed what I wrote was fair, even if some of the facts were painful. (The Navy kids reading about their 14-13 loss to Army in the final chapters of ‘A Civil War,’ come to mind). As for the response to a book that meant the most to me it would almost certainly be the note Tom Watson sent me after I had sent him an early copy of ‘Caddy For Life.’ (Which by the way will air as a documentary on Golf Channel on June 15th).
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and will be in bookstores nationwide May 13th. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases