ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Arnold Palmer believes redemption for Tiger Woods starts with being more open with the media.
Palmer initially was guarded with his opinion about Woods and the sex scandal that has tarnished golf’s biggest star. But when asked at Bay Hill how Woods could show more respect for the game – as Woods pledged in his public apology last month – Palmer’s suggestion was for him to let his guard down.
“It’s up to him to do and say whatever he feels he needs to do to redeem the situation, put it in the proper place,” Palmer said. “My opinion, as I said … I was going to keep to myself. But I suppose the best thing he could do would be open up and just let you guys shoot at him. And that’s just my thought.”
Such advice comes from an 80-year-old, seven-time major champion who first made golf popular among the masses in America with his charisma, hard-charging comebacks and a connection with fans unlike any other player. Palmer won them over by looking them in the eye and speaking from the heart.
Even after he finished his press conference Wednesday, the King looked comfortable facing more than a dozen reporters until it was time for him to get ready for the pro-am in the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Woods is missing the tournament for the first time in his career. It had been the only regular PGA Tour event he played every year.
Palmer said he was disappointed Woods wasn’t playing, instead choosing to make his return to competition in two weeks at Augusta National, where each has won four green jackets.
Woods is the two-time defending champion and a six-time winner at Bay Hill. Among the more indelible images are Woods and Palmer embracing behind the 18th green before the trophy presentation.
It is doubtful Woods will take Palmer’s advice. The only time they have spoken since Woods’ private life of infidelity was exposed came last week, when he called Palmer to tell him he would not be playing at Bay Hill this year.
“He called me one evening and we had a conversation,” Palmer said. “I wasn’t in a position to hear him very well, so I asked him if he would call me the next morning just to confirm what he had said, and he did. And the situation was that he didn’t feel his game was sharp enough to come and compete that soon, so he told me that he was not going to play. He would go to Augusta first.
“That’s really the conversation.”
Woods has spoken publicly only twice since the Nov. 27 car accident that started his spectacular downfall, which cost him three major endorsements and turned a global icon into a butt of jokes. He gave a 13 1/2-minute statement to his closest supporters on Feb. 19, then gave interviews to ESPN and The Golf Channel, which were aired the same time Sunday evening.
Woods has dominated the conversation at Bay Hill, as has been the case at other tournaments this year. It is more prevalent at Bay Hill because his return is imminent.
“I will say we are disappointed Tiger isn’t here to play,” Palmer replied to the first question about Woods. “On any of the other issues – you started your question with ‘Move on’ – I think that’s probably the best thing to do. Move on.”
Palmer expected Woods to contend at Augusta National, which will be his first competition in five months, because that’s the “nature of the beast.” Even so, he was surprised that Woods will make the Masters his first tournament.
Palmer said he often took a couple of months off during the winter, as most touring pros did in the 1960s and ’70s, but that he would play just about every tournament leading to the Masters and other majors to make sure he gave himself the best chance to win.
One thing Woods could face – if not at Augusta National, then other tournaments with less control over the gallery – is heckling. Palmer remains one of the most beloved figures in golf.
“It would probably bother me,” Palmer said. “I’m a sensitive person by nature. I suppose if it happened often, I’d get used to it. But it’s not something I would look forward to.”
Colin Montgomerie knows about this. He had several instances in America where he was heckled, especially at the U.S. Open.
“But Tiger is different,” Montgomerie said. “I only got the spotlight when I came over here to America. He has a spotlight and has had it on him for the last 10 years. So I don’t envision problems arising with that at all. He’s the most focused sportsman I’ve ever known, and I think that he will adapt accordingly.”