Tour Confidential: What Do You Make of the New, Candid Tiger Woods?

December 7, 2015

Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1. Tiger Woods gave the most revealing interview of his career when he sat down with Lorne Rubenstein for a piece, which was published last week. What was the most surprising or illuminating thing you learned?

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): That Tiger has a lot of friends in the media he has dinner with. I queried every scribe I know – many who have been covering Woods since the 1990s – and not one has ever eaten a meal with him. But on the whole it was an interesting interview.

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): I’m surprised he views his Navy Seal physical toughness negatively as well as positively. He always prided himself on that trait, but seems to realize those Ws in which he played through pain led to his current problems.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Lorne asked Woods about where he finds peace. Woods’s answer: “I would have to say that, probably, my only peace has been in between the ropes and hitting the shots.” An impressive and obviously truthful answer, but one that will present challenges for him for the rest of his life, because those opportunities, to really get lost in the cocoon of competition, will become fewer and fewer.

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Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): That Tiger has a lot of friends in the media and has gone to countless dinners with them. I’m guessing he meant Golf Channel media. And I’m not counting Notah Begay as media yet.

Brendan Mohler, assistant editor, (@bmohler09): That this interview happened at all I think teaches us a lot about who Tiger Woods currently is. He’s let down his guard in what seems to be an attempt to come to terms with the inevitable end of his career. Woods himself appears to be trying to figure out just who he is after golf is taken away as a major factor in his life. I think the following admission is the most telling thing Woods has ever said: “My only peace has been in between the ropes and hitting the shots.”

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I was most surprised by Tiger revealing that he didn’t have Jack’s 18 majors pinned to his childhood bedroom wall, and instead had a series of goals to beat Nicklaus at certain ages, including breaking 80 and winning a Junior Am. Why did Woods wait 20 years to set the record straight on that?

2. In the span of a couple of days last week we heard from Tiger during a somber press conference in which he indicated that he has started to come to terms with his mortality and then again in the lengthy TIME interview. What do you make of this new, more candid version of Woods?

SHIPNUCK: It’s a welcome change, Tiger accepting the obvious instead of mouthing tired platitudes about being *this* close or saying he’s playing to win when he’s having trouble breaking 80. I see all of this as Tiger recognizing that he has a lot of fence-mending to do with the public if he wants to transition into a beloved elder statesman in the game, as his hero Nicklaus has done.

MORFIT: Tiger has had a lot of time to reflect, and the holidays are a time for that anyway. What stood out for me is Tiger insisting he was never all-consumed with winning 18 or 19 majors to tie or break Nicklaus’s record. To me that looks like a guy who’s already trying to spin his career narrative, in case it really is over. Sad.

BAMBERGER: Growing up. A cynic would say he’s being cooperative because now he has to be, with his game and career in tatters. But I don’t think that’s it. I just think he’s maturing.

VAN SICKLE: I’m looking forward to him being this candid on a regular basis, if that’s what is going to happen. Look, he’s had a lot happen and he was asked a lot of what-if stuff and he tried to answer as best he could but he just doesn’t know. I’m not opposed to defining “I don’t know” as more candid but it’s a step in the right direction. We’ve got a lot of mileage with Tiger not being candid at all to forget before I can get too excited. But I like it so far.

MOHLER: I think Woods has realized that he needs to take on a different public persona now that he can’t simply rely on his ability and excellent record to describe who he is. As more of a spectator now than someone who constantly contends, he needs to appeal to fans in a different way. His television commentary during the Hero World Challenge was brilliant; I’d love for him to spend more time in the broadcast booth.

RITTER: Take his acceptance of the Ryder Cup vice captaincy and add it to the somber presser and candid Time interview and it’s clear Woods is now contemplating the end of his career. If this is it, golf will miss him as a competitor, but if he continues to let us all in like this, he could quickly become a beloved ambassador of the game.


3. Bubba Watson tied the course record at the Hero World Challenge on Saturday (until Justin Rose broke it on Sunday) and wrapped up the title on Sunday, beating runner-up Patrick Reed by three. With two green jackets to his name and mind-bending talent, why doesn’t Bubba get mentioned in the same breath at Jordan, Jason and Rory?

SHIPNUCK: Partly because he lacks the same week-to-week consistency, but Bubba says that’s his goal going forward, to be in contention more regularly. I wouldn’t bet against the guy – his talent is truly awe-inspiring, and ever so slowly he’s figuring out the rest of it.

MORFIT: Bubba has overachieved, in my opinion. To borrow a line from Tiger last week, anything else is just gravy. Keep in mind this is a guy who didn’t win in college or on the, and who dislikes crowds.

BAMBERGER: Because he’s so weird.

VAN SICKLE: Bubba didn’t get mentioned because he didn’t contend in a major and Jordan Spieth blotted out the sun with his Grand Slam chase. Between him and Jason Day’s finish and Rory’s ankle, Bubba couldn’t buy a headline. Pretty much like Chris Christie or Mike Huckabee.

MOHLER: Bubba’s record deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as guys like Jason, Rory and Jordan, but he may be the streakiest player of the bunch. And unlike the other three, Bubba’s actions during bad days on the golf course call attention to his game for the wrong reasons. At his best, Bubba is as exciting to watch as anyone playing right now, but he creates a polarity among fans that’s unmatched by the “Big 3.”

RITTER: Because our new Big Three are around the same age, they’re easy to lump together, but Bubba has the resume to be considered the fourth big gun. What he lacks from the other guys, besides millennial status, is the ability to win any major of the calendar. His Augusta record is sterling, but he’s barely made a blip at the other three, and he’s been a Ryder Cup bust. Gotta make some strides there to join the club.

4. A new PGA Tour rule will require players to add at least one new event to their schedules that they did not play in during the previous four seasons. This new policy, which will be put in place in 2016-17, won’t apply to players who compete in 25 or more official events during the current or previous season. Sensible rule? Or too much policing?

SHIPNUCK: It doesn’t go far enough. When he was the most famous human on Earth, Michael Jordan had to visit every NBA arena every year, no matter how small the market or crappy the team. PGA Tour fans deserve better – if a tournament is played under the Tour’s aegis, it should have many if not most of the biggest names, every time. The solution is for the Tour to trim a lot of the fat from its schedule; I’d much prefer 25 great tournaments a year to the current bloated schedule where so many weeks lack headliners.

MORFIT: Seems like a good rule. The stars can make or break tournaments; this was especially true in the Tiger era. Just look at what happened to the great International (RIP) outside Denver.

BAMBERGER: A good idea in theory but terrible in practice. Yes, it will be good to see some of the other events get support. But the whole premise of the PGA Tour is pure, pure capitalism, for the players trying to keep their playing privileges and for the Tour events trying to get the best fields possible. You want better players? Offer a better purse, a better course, better practice facilities, better hotels. This is a socialist nod that is not in the spirit of what the Tour at its core represents.

VAN SICKLE: It’s a sensible rule considering the millions that sponsors are asked to dole out. Some players will be inconvenienced, perhaps, so hey, play your 25 and go where you want. Easy solution. It’s a rule that is long overdue.

MOHLER: Very sensible. On the surface this rule may seem like too much involvement on the Tour’s behalf in a player’s roster of events. But there’s hardly any incentive for players to compete in events that they normally don’t, and that deprives fans in certain areas and hurts events with weaker markets. Hopefully this will lead to fans seeing the game’s top players competing more often in events like the Northern Trust (Riviera) or AT&T Pro-Am (Pebble Beach), or those hosted at classic courses that get lost among the PGA Tour’s endless schedule.

RITTER: I’m good with the rule and feel it should have enacted a decade ago when Tiger was in his prime. It helps the smaller events on tour and gives new local markets a chance to see some of the stars.


5. Sports Illustrated will announce its Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 14. Jordan Spieth is one of the 12 finalists, among the likes of Steph Curry, Serena Williams and American Pharaoh. Make the case for Spieth.

SHIPNUCK: He had one of the best seasons of all time, and he did it with tremendous class, sportsmanship and good cheer. He has become the apple-cheeked face of an entire sport, at the tender age of 22. In fact, this is one of the rare times Spieth’s youth might work against him: I can imagine our brain-trust is thinking they’ll have plenty of other opportunities to give it to Spieth and may snub him this time around, when there are lots of other strong candidates.

MORFIT: He was THE story in sports as he went for his third straight major at the Open in July. That isn’t easy to do. He thrilled when he won (a lot) and even when he finished 2nd or T4, as at St. Andrews. He dominated at Augusta like Tiger did in ’97. He was superb from beginning to end and was so good it hardly mattered that Tiger was way off and Rory was laid up with a bad ankle. That’s not easy to do, either.

BAMBERGER: I can’t do better than Josh Sens did on I refer you to it. But Spieth should absolutely get it, for what he did on the course, for how he carries himself off the course and for his generous spirit. A true sportsman.

VAN SICKLE: Nobody galvanized their sport in 2015 the way Jordan Spieth did, and he was not a name the country knew before 2015. He’s a household name now and he nearly did something that only Tiger Woods had done in modern times–win three straight majors. It didn’t happen but he was close. Who else changed their sport? Only Jordan.

MOHLER: No golfer has won the honor since Tiger’s three-major season in 2000, but, Woods also won the award in 1996 after winning PGA Tour Rookie of the Year honors, his third consecutive U.S. Amateur, the NCAA title and low-am honors at the British Open. Spieth’s 2015 was bigger than that, but I’m afraid his competition (Serena, the KC Royals, the triple-crown winning American Pharaoh) is too tough to beat.

RITTER: Spieth finished 1-1-4-2 at the majors this year, which adds up to eight. When Tiger won Sportsman in 2000 he went 5-1-1-1 for another crazy eight. Spieth adds up to a vintage Tiger season and he deserves to win it.

6. Discouraged that his ball was in a poorly raked bunker and that he had to lay up on the 18th hole of the Nedbank Challenge on Saturday, Henrik Stenson picked up his bag and slammed it to the ground. What’s the angriest reaction you’ve seen from a Tour pro?

SHIPNUCK: Stenson has a bunch of them! But Tiger is my choice, and it came in private at the 2000 American Express Championship. He was bidding to join Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead as the only players in history to win 10 or more times in a season. But on Valderrama’s absurd 17th hole he hit it in the water three rounds out of four, including Sunday, when he made double bogey there and then a bogey at 18, costing him a chance at victory. Afterward I followed Woods into the locker room – I was the only person there except for his agent, Mark Steinberg. Now, keep in mind this is 2000, the greatest season in golf history. But Woods was so steamed he took off his golf shoe and started wailing on his bag. Five or six times, as hard as he could. I couldn’t believe how violent it was. Or that he cared that much. But that’s Tiger.

MORFIT: Well, we saw two pretty good fits this year in Rory and John Daly flinging clubs into the water. But as far as pure anger no one was hotter than Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez at the WGC-Match Play. That was bizarre.

BAMBERGER: Oh, I’ve seen a lot. At the Spanish Open, years ago, a fine Argentine player, Armando Saavedra, missed a shorty and slapped himself so hard across his own face he left a mark.

VAN SICKLE: I’ve seen helicopters galore and drop-kicked clubs. While it wasn’t the angriest, nothing beat Woody Austin hitting himself over the head with his putter. I can’t remember if it bent badly or broke but it was funny because it was caught on video and every one of us has thought about doing just that. Some of us did, some of us didn’t. It was a genuine golf moment.

MOHLER: Woody Austin has orchestrated some of the best tantrums on Tour, but the most memorable came at the 1997 Verizon Heritage. This is the only instance I can remember of a golfer breaking a golf club on his head, and for that reason deserves to be re-lived.

RITTER: Since when do golfers ever get angry?

The Tour Confidential roundtable continues Monday on our new weekly show hosted by Jessica Marksbury. Tweet her your questions @Jess_Marksbury.