For those who consider Tiger Woods's press conferences to be a tad milquetoast, I say, have a little empathy. The poor guy has been answering many of the same questions his entire adult life.
Woods met the press at high noon on Tuesday of PGA Championship week, facing many of the same queries he answered last week at the Bridgestone Invitational. Yes, he's enjoying the Olympics. Yes, he's happy with the progress of his swing. Yes, he's still hoping to break Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 career majors. The on-site stenographer could have saved everyone some time by merely cutting-and-pasting Woods's answers from Akron. Or the 2004 PGA Championship.
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The only time Woods becomes engaged in these settings is when he is talking about his craft. Tiger, known as Urkel to his Stanford teammates, remains the ultimate golf nerd. He is a student of golf history and the golf swing and golf course agronomy. He spoke eloquently about the strategic challenges inherent in Pete Dye golf courses, giving the Ocean Course his stamp of approval.
"It makes you think, which I like," Woods said. "[Dye] makes you make a decision off the tee, he makes you make a decision around the green. If you miss your spot, you're going to be penalized severely. You can't just go out there and swing away. You have to think about what you're doing and how you're going to do it."
Clearly Woods see himself as that kind of player, and he is. His mastery as a strategist underpins his 14 major championship victories. The more exacting conditions at the majors also favor his superior shotmaking skills, and Woods sounded mournful about the weather during a press conference that was enlivened by rain pounding on the press room roof.
"I like the test a firm golf course brings," he said. "It brings more shotmaking into the equation."
With intermittent thunderstorms forecast for the rest of the week, the greens and fairways figure to remain soft for the duration. "If the PGA decides to play it all the way back, it's going to be a big ballpark," Woods said.
Power will be an asset onthe Ocean Course, more so than at Olympic and Royal Lytham, the bandboxes that hosted the last two majors. Woods stuck to a conservative gameplan at each, putting himself in position to win before he was undone by poor execution.
"I'm pleased with way I was able to play at times, but I'm disappointed I didn't win," he said. "Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn't feel that good."
At the British Open, Woods was visibly uncomfortable swinging his driver. The short course and fast fairways allowed him to play around this weakness, but he won't have that luxury on the Ocean Course. Depending on the conditions, all four par-5s are reachable, while many of the par-4s offer risk/reward off the tee. Said Woods: "If you're aggressive, it can play very short…if you're hitting your driver well."
Will he this week? Right now that golf's biggest question. Also uncertain is Woods's putting — he has been maddeningly inconsistent this year — and the conviction with which he'll play. Woods used to have the best head in the game, but at the majors this year he has lacked the confidence and focus and determination that were his trademarks.
Can Woods ever be the player he was? That question can only be answered on a Sunday, not a Tuesday.