ST. ANDREWS, Scotland The ever-feisty British press finally had Tiger Woods on their home turf during his Tuesday morning media conference at the British Open, and they weren't about to let him off easy.
Whereas the bulk of questions from the American writers in attendance related to Tiger's form, his game plan this week on the Old Course and the new Nike putter he's toting in his bag, the Brits peppered Woods with queries about his divorce, his on-course "tantrums" and what one writer perceived to be Woods's "unhappy" demeanor during his practice round earlier Tuesday.
"I was fine this morning," Woods responded. "I don't know what you're talking about."
Whatever his mood, Tiger has not had much to be cheery about since the wee hours of Nov. 27. His life has been turned inside out, he's winless in 2010 and he hasn't bagged a major since the 2008 U.S. Open. "I'm just trying to become a better person," Woods said, a refrain he repeated three times in the 20-minute Q&A session. "That's all that really matters. I have two beautiful kids, and I'm trying to be the best dad I can possibly be. That's the most important thing." (The inference from Woods: 'Nuff said.)
Winning is also important to Woods, and despite his inconsistent play this season he is the heavy favorite to prevail this week on the course where he won the 2000 Open by eight strokes and the 2005 edition by five.
He has played the links three times since arriving on Sunday and noted that the course is playing softer than in years past. "The greens aren't up to speed," Woods said. "Today one of the guys was out there [with a] Stimpmeter and [the greens] were under 10, so they're obviously not up to speed, at least not yet." Heavy rain is in the forecast for Wednesday night, moving into Thursday, which means the course could play longer and slower still.
For his part, Woods will tackle the greens with a new putter the Nike Method 001 which has replaced the Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport that helped him win 13 of his 14 major titles. Woods said the Nike putter has a hotter face, which means the ball comes off it with more pace. "I've always been tempted to change my putter on slower greens," he said, "and I said to Steve [Williams], I've always struggled when greens are really slow."
When Woods won the 2000 Open, he was in the midst of the most dominant stretch of his career. He famously avoided finding a single bunker and decimated the field. In 2005, he outsmarted the course again, hitting irons off many tees with remarkable precision. But the Tiger of 2010 is a different and more unpredictable animal, one who struggles mightily with his driving accuracy and in recent months just about every other part of his game.
"I think he'll be a factor here because of the width you have here," two-time Open winner Ernie Els said this morning. "You've got room to play with. He knows how to play the course, obviously. And he knows the greens very well.
"[But] things have changed a little bit. A lot of players have moved on a little bit. On his day Tiger's still the best player in the world, but I think there's guys a little closer to him now."
"The fields have become deeper," he said. "When I first came out on Tour, I don't ever remember cuts being four under par. ... Guys are going lower."
We'll find out soon whether Woods will be the low man this week. But in the meantime, you sense that he's simply happy to be back on the sacred sod that has been so good to him. "It's great to be back playing this golf course," he said. "This is a good as it gets."