By petedirenzo
Thursday, January 07, 2010

KAPALUA, Hawaii — Another year, another ‘Bag. (These last few months I wasn't slacking, merely storing up witticisms.) This has potential to be as fascinating and topsy-turvy a season as golf has seen in a long time. I'll look forward to being your humble tour guide…Did golf journalists know or have an idea about Tiger's extracurricular activities? If so, do you feel they should have written about the "other Tiger" or kept their knowledge a secret?  — Alan HargravesYeah, lately I've been feeling like the Judith Miller of the golf beat. I'm as guilty as anyone of contributing to the Woods mystique, having written a half dozen glowing cover stories about his myth-making. Did I know about his secret life? Just a little. Should I have written about it? You decide.Before Tiger was married I used to hear stories about some wild parties in Vegas. The Rio was reputed to be his private playpen, where Tiger supposedly rented an entire floor and brought the party up to him and his buddies. This kind of loose talk quieted down after his marriage, but by last summer there was a building buzz about marital discord. At the British Open, where Woods memorably missed the cut, there were rumors circulating that he'd had a big blowup with Elin that week and was thus distracted. I don't think this was printed anywhere. Only two people would know if it was true and neither was going to confirm it. I suppose I could have asked Tiger point-blank at Turnberry if marital strife had contributed to his missed cut, but now, as then, the question strikes me as bizarre and inappropriate, given the context. A month later, at the PGA Championship, I had lunch with two veteran scribes. We all compared notes on what we'd been hearing lately and decided, Yep, he's fooling around. Still, what is a responsible reporter supposed to do with such a hunch? Even if SI's lawyers signed-off, I'm not inclined to trash a guy's reputation based solely on innuendo and third-hand gossip. SI doesn't pay for interviews so even a month spent trolling Vegas Champagne Rooms would only have turned up more un-fact-checkable information.Let's suppose that, pre-Thanksgiving, SI had obtained some kind of smoking gun – pictures of a parking lot tryst, or R-rated text messages – I still don't know if that's a story we should break. Prior to his mysterious car accident, Woods's private life was still private. Is it the responsibility of a sportswriter to reveal the details of an athlete's sex life? The answer is yes, if it's affecting the game itself. When two NBA teammates are courting the same pop singer and thus disrupting team chemistry, that's clearly a story. What's happening behind closed doors at the Island Hotel between consenting adults? I don't think so.As soon as Tiger mysteriously cracked up his Escalade, and then went underground, his life away from golf became fair game, but he is the one who set this story in motion, not the media. Bottom line: it's a bummer to have been hoodwinked for so long, but I'm not sure what more the golf media could have done.

Alan, does Peter Kostis wear a rug or not? We have been debating this very important factoid for a couple of years now. Please settle this for us, for you know all. Thanks. —Steve Johnston, Salinas, CAIf you check out the thumbnail pics of the various contributors it should be obvious that my thick, luscious head of hair is an anomaly. How to explain all the chrome domes? Perhaps golf media types spend too much time on the windswept linksland, loosening their follicles. Or maybe sitting through too many Tim Finchem press conferences inflicts unseen damage that causes one's locks to fall out, much like chemotherapy. Whatever the causes, hair is a precious commodity in the golf media, so Kostis's mane is certainly suspicious.  Does he or doesn't he? All I know is that thing on his head looks like it Stimps at about 9.5.Alan, please, give us 3 players who in your opinion will profit most from the grooves change, and 3 players who would struggle most.  —PeterWinners: Brian Gay, Zach Johnson, Phil Mickelson. Losers: Dustin Johnson, J.B. Holmes, Charley Hoffman.Gay and Johnson—you could sub in Justin Leonard for either one—have thrived despite giving up dozens of yards off the tee to most contemporaries. Now the new grooves will accentuate their skill sets: straight driving, distance control, fantastic wedge play. Bombers will now pay a steeper price for their inaccuracy—or switch to softer balls, thus reducing their advantage off the tee. Either way, Gay's and Johnson's brand of lethal small-ball will only be more effective. I threw Phil into the mix because the new grooves demand more skill, creativity and panache around the greens, and no one has more shots than Mickelson. His talent level will separate him from many pretenders who have become overly dependent on technology.Johnson, Holmes and Hoffman are all wayward bombers who used to spin the ball an incredible amount out of the rough, allowing for aggressive recoveries. We'll see if they are able to adapt to a changing game.A lot of players have downplayed the significance of the new grooves but subtle changes in technology have often reshaped golf's world order. The introduction of the 60 degree wedge helped end Seve's dominance. Suddenly a lot of guys could hit the shots that previously only he had mastered.  Similarly, Nick Price's and Greg Norman's stays at number one were shortened by the introduction of larger driver heads, which reduced their advantages as the two best drivers of the golf ball of their era. I think it is going to be fascinating to watch the subtle evolution of the Tour this year.If you had to rent an RV and drive from Torrey Pines to Bay Hill what four current tour players would you take with you and why? — LeftyI think I would be quite happy to make the trip with just Maria Verchenova of the Ladies European Tour. Or maybe Jeehae Lee. Or Erica Blasberg. But I'm guessing you mean dudes, so I'll take Tommy Armour, because he'd know every good steakhouse, cigar bar and strip club along the way; Geoff Ogilvy, a very smart, funny guy who's always good for lively conversation; Charles Howell, who makes me laugh more than any other Tour pro; and Tiger Woods. Maybe in this environment he'd loosen up and finally reveal himself.[Thanks to the Vanity Fair pictures] I see Tiger getting a whole new set of sponsors and fans--kind of like those who support the Raiders. I'm kinda liking that new Tiger nasty image . . . you?   —SteveNot sure if "like" is the right term, but it's going to be riveting to watch Tiger in the future, assuming he ever comes out of hiding. I saw a survey a few weeks ago where 15% of respondents said they will root for him more in the future. Certainly this reflects the frat boy element that has enjoyed ogling the racy pictures of Tiger's harem of naughty cocktail waitresses, but I think it also reveals a deeper truth that people are relieved Tiger has finally been revealed as human. Before his crackup Woods had been deified to an almost absurd degree, and he fed this with his frequent boasts about 5 a.m. daily wakeups, 12 hour days in the gym, etc. There was something holier-than-thou in the way he lorded his work ethic over other players (and the rest of us lazy mortals.) Now we know definitively he's one of us, just a guy with an amazing talent and some serious flaws. Over the last 11 years Wood's march on Nicklaus's records had become an increasingly joyless trudge, the brilliance of his performance somehow blunted by the predictability. Now, when he returns, he will be humbled and chastened, and I think the victories will be much sweeter.

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