Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 December 2014

The Open: Tiger Woods shrugs off awkward questions

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods addresses the media prior to the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 13, 2010
Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland hits a shot during practice for the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 13, 2010
Rory McIlroy addresses the media during practice for the 139th Open Championship on the Old Course, St Andrews on July 13, 2010

Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson were centre stage at St Ansrews yesterday and, after four months of watching the beleaguered Woods dodge and weave in the face of the same infernal questions, golf sorely needs to move on.

The time is right for Mickelson, as comfortable, quick-witted and agile under questioning as any politician, to relieve Tiger of his mantle as World No 1 this week and, hopefully, help set a new agenda for the sport.

Yet there are many, many other stories at St Andrews this week, none more gripping than those of Holywood teenager Rory McIlroy's bid to emulate his good pal Graeme McDowell's heroics at Pebble Beach.

At the other end of the spectrum, the recent history, hopes and dreams of three Open debutants, Shane Lowry, Gareth Maybin and Colm Moriarty, make fascinating reading.

Elements of the British media positively salivated at the prospect of Tiger being ‘thrown to the wolves of Fleet Street' in his media conference at St Andrews yesterday.

Yet this grand ‘inquisition' would be about as bruising for Woods as being savaged by a dead sheep — as Geoffrey Howe’s attack on Margaret Thatcher was once famously described.

Without further facts or revelations to pin him down and in a forum where sustained questioning on any subject is virtually impossible, these fruitless efforts to corner the Tiger have become boring and repetitive.

Whether it was by stiletto or sledgehammer, Woods barely batted an eye yesterday, even when a Sunday newspaper reporter tossed the following bomb in his direction.

“Tom Watson has said you need to clean up your act on the golf course,” said the journalist, reading out aloud the question he'd just scribbled.

“He's gone on record. Many of us over the years have heard you use the ‘F' word, we've seen you spit on the course and we've seen you throwing tantrums like chucking your clubs around. Are you willing to cut out all those tantrums this week and respect the home of golf?”

“I'm trying to become a better player and a better person, yes.” Tiger replied evenly.

Asked about the speculation this week that his divorce had already been confirmed, Woods responded: “I'm not going to go into that.”

He confirmed he'd recently had a two-hour interview with the FBI (relating to the treatment he'd received from Canadian Dr Anthony Galea, who is being investigated by federal authorities in the US over administering illegal substances to athletes).

Yet Woods declined to comment on the specific reasons why he was interviewed or why he chose to be treated by a doctor not licensed to practice in the US, saying: “Well, I can't go into any of that because it's an ongoing case.”

When one reporter suggested he'd seemed “a bit unhappy” with the crowd during his practice round yesterday morning, Tiger insisted: “I was fine this morning. I don't know what you're talking about.”

“You looked a little upset out there.”

“Not at all.”

Woods has been the architect of his own downfall, so one's sympathy is not as much for him as the dark stain this never-ending controversy leaves on his sport and any tournament he plays.

Of course, a record third Open victory for Tiger on Sunday would serve as a firebreak for golf.

However, his game in recent months suggests that Woods is not yet ready to return to Major-winning ways, even at a St Andrews which he has always enjoyed playing.

Far better then for Mickelson to relieve him as world No 1, which the Californian can do if he claims his first Claret Jug and fifth Major title this week — mathematically, this also is possible if ‘Lefty' finishes outright second (and Tiger fourth), third (and Tiger 14th) or fourth (and Tiger misses the halfway cut).

The Tiger Woods of 2010 is unrecognisable from the Tiger Woods of 2005 and the Tiger Woods of 2000 who strode to victory at 19 under par.

That golfer stood so tall and so proud in the Kingdom of Fife soon to be renamed the Kingdom of Tiger.

In truth, no golfer had ever looked so at home in the Home of Golf.

But now he appears lost, walking around the suddenly unfamiliar confines searching for some answers.

If anybody still is of the opinion that the scandal has not affected him then consider that, a fortnight after changing his ball-type, he is now changing the club he has loved more than any other.

“It's invaluable,” he said just before the 2005 Open here.

“It is irreplaceable. You can't put a dollar value on it. I have tested a bunch of putters.

“It's just so hard to get my gamer out of there.

“I've tried other putters and some of the putters do feel better than mine.

“But coming down the stretch on Sunday and I know I need to make a putt, I know this putter has done it.”

Even his marital vows sounded loose compared to that oath.

But then, the putter has become just the latest thing in his life to depart.

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