Channeling Tiger Woods to get some more answers

April 6, 2010

AUGUSTA, Ga. — I had never been to a press conference like it, one that promised so much and delivered so little. The senses were on high alert: the hard serrated edges of the little square ticket you had to hand over to the three people checking for interlopers. I was in my second-row seat in the Press Building interview room by 1:20 p.m. The scheduled tee time was 2. At 1:27, an Augusta member gently told Mike Kern of The Philadelphia Daily News to keep the aisle clear — Tiger would be coming by.

And, 35 minutes later, Woods did, making a semi-grand entrance, right through the reporters, as if he were at his own wedding or something. (Typically for his press conferences, he just slips in through a side door.) Woods worked his way to the room’s small stage, to face another packed house, this one gathered not to hear the ins and outs of another of his Masters wins (he has four) but to explain the state of his affairs. The great time-management expert gave Ron Sirak of Golf World a little tap on the shoulder on his way in — I’d never seen him make that move before — and space-wise Kern was accommodating. Woods had the wide berth he needed.

Question-wise, Kern had a good one up his short-sleeved shirt: Tiger, if you get to 19 majors, do you think golf fans will look at the record differently from the way they look at Jack Nicklaus’s 18 majors? But Kern — like me, like most of us — never got his question in. The odds were against us. There were about 180 reporters. Woods took about 45 questions from about 25 different reporters in a session that lasted 30 minutes. Really, it was pretty much a continuation of his brief sessions with Golf Channel and ESPN last month.

At least I got a good look at him, live and in person. He looked … about the same. He was slightly pale. He was perspiring, having just left a practice session under the warm spring sun, and he wore his Nike hat all through the interview. His upper arms continued to bulge through the snug sleeves of his pink, white, beige and blue striped shirt. The left-side of his upper lip drooped noticeably over his front left tooth. Maybe that’s a function of the five stitches his lip received after he ran over a fire hydrant in Isleworth in November.

Doug Ferguson, AP’s golf writer, elicited that piece of information, about the stitches. Tip your hat to the man. Tiger Woods is an expert in the art of answering reporter questions while revealing as little as he possibly can. On Monday, he pretty much picked up where he left off. To talk about his surgically repaired left knee, he said it feels great but he can now tell when fronts are about to come through, courtesy of the knee. That’s one of the things he does, gets you to change your focus. You were asking about the knee, but now you’re thinking about biological weather forecasting. Ferguson got Woods to own-up to five stitches (I had never before seen a stitch count) likely because he started his next, unrelated question by mentioning that number. Tiger inadvertently gave us a tidbit of news, the very thing he didn’t want to do.

I had my various questions prepared — different ones, depending on when in the proceedings I was called, if I was called.

And here they are. The questions (Q), the rationale behind the questions (R) and, channeling Tiger, his possible answers (T).

Q) Can Fred win?
R) Tiger played 18 holes with Fred Couples on Monday morning. He would know. Not can he contend, but can he win?
T) Truthfully, yeah, he could. Can Fred win? As long as he hits it? The way he’s been putting in those senior events? Truthfully, yeah, he could. But, you know, there are some people he’s got to beat. Phil. Paddy. Stricky. I might have a shot. He’s 50. But can he win? Yeah.

Q) When you were visiting with President Obama in the White House, did it ever occur to you that if he knew about your other life you’d never be there?
R) We know now that Tiger’s ability to compartmentalize is off the charts. You wonder if there are limits.
T) Truthfully, I never thought about it that way. I never figured I’d be caught. That was my mind-set then.

Q) This whole window into your private life, it might never have been opened had the National Enquirer not followed Rachel Uchitel in Australia in November. What are your feelings about how this episode became public in the first place?
R) I’d like to know if Woods is angry, at peace, or somewhere in between.
T) Truthfully? I think what the Enquirer did was an abuse of our rights to free speech. On the other hand, maybe they did me a favor. But I doubt it.

Q) If you’re a different person now, with your therapy and being exposed as you have, would you, almost by necessity, have to be a different golfer now as well?
R) Trying to figure out where his head is as a golfer.
T) Truthfully? I can be a better golfer than ever by being a better person. A different golfer? Yes. Better. Less emotional. More clinically ruthless.

Q) Did your agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG, know anything about your affairs?
R) Trying to figure out whether Steinberg will continue to run Tiger’s business life, particularly if Tiger and Elin stay married.
T) Truthfully? He did, in a very limited way, and he tried to advise me about the risks of my behavior, but I wasn’t listening to him or anybody else. What I’ve been trying to say all along is this thing — this other life I led — is all on me. And from the depth of this very deep humiliation I am going to dig my way out the only way I really know how to. Not by answering a bunch of questions, but by going low, lower than anybody else. Really, that’s who I am. That’s what I do. I play golf. Truthfully, I’m not worth all this fuss. All I am is a golfer.