As Phil Mickelson was walking up the 18th fairway at Augusta National on Sunday evening to put the finishing touches on his third Masters victory, I was standing behind the scorer’s cabin, microphone in hand, interviewing Tiger Woods.
Little did I know how much reaction there would be to that three-minute interview. Perhaps people were waiting to hear a different Tiger, more humble and warm, which would signal the beginning of a new man.
What they got instead were answers that sounded like they came from the same Tiger we’ve been hearing for more than a decade.
“I finished fourth. Not what I wanted,” Tiger said when I asked him to put his week into perspective. “I wanted to win this tournament. As the week wore on I kept hitting the ball worse. I hit it better on Friday, but after that it was not very good.”
The “New Tiger” could have talked about how much the fans’ support meant to him, how the Masters is only a first step in a long road back, and how he tried his best to win but came up short. He also could have said that he was happy for the Mickelson family given everything they’ve been through over the last year.
If he had humbly said those things, Tiger would have been golden. Instead, he said, “I finished fourth.”
Nobody should be surprised because as much as he is trying to change himself as a person outside the ropes, he can’t change the competitor he is inside them.
In his pre-tournament press conference, Tiger said, “I made a conscious decision to try and tone down my negative outbursts.” That raised everyone’s expectations of his on-course behavior. So when he swore at himself after hitting some poor shots during the tournament, there were plenty of people ready to react.
On Sunday I asked him if it is going to take time to control his emotions on the course while not eliminating them. Tiger’s response: “I think people are making way too much of a big deal of this thing. I was not feeling good. I hit a big snipe off the first hole and I don’t know how people can think I should be happy about that. I hit a wedge from 45 yards and basically bladed it over the green. These are not things I normally do. So I’m not going to be smiling and not going to be happy.”
Again, wrong answer. No one expected Woods to be pleased with all of his shots on Sunday, but he could have opened up a bit. He could have said that he’s far from being a perfect person and that he’s going to work on finding a way to play with passion without cursing or abusing his clubs.
Tiger will never become a robot golfer. Nor should he try to. I love that Tiger is passionate and expressive about golf and wants to play it as well as he possibly can—every time he tees it up. But telling people that he’s going to consciously tone down his behavior sounds like Superman saying that he’s going to wear a necklace made of Kryptonite.
Let’s give Tiger some time see if he can change. If he can lose the cursing and the club throwing, but keep the passion and fire that helps make him great, then all will be well with the golf world.
I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m interviewing a different Tiger Woods next year at Augusta. Between now and then he’s got a lot of things to think about and a lot of stress to deal with inside the ropes as well as out.
Change takes time. Let’s give him some.