After a highly publicized late night out on the town with girlfriend Lindsey Vonn in Manhattan, Tiger Woods was prepared for the question.
“Do you think you would have gone to a red-carpet event during the week of a major?”
“Yeah, I have,” said Woods on Tuesday afternoon. “I’ve gone to the golf writers dinner at Augusta.”
Cue the laugh track from the assembled hacks, who know their fashion-challenged rubber chicken shindig at the Masters is hardly the equivalent of the swank Met Gala followed by a very late night at the Boom Boom Room.
“You like that one, huh?”
Woods — who’d scrubbed up well given the photographs taken of him the night before — was pleased with himself for making a funny.
But the question remained unanswered: If The Players Championship were really a major, would Woods have had a late night and shown up in time to play just four holes of practice?
“We have our four major championships, and that’s that,” he said.
“But if there was going to be another one, this would be it.”
The most backhanded of compliments.
The truth is that the moment Woods finished playing the Masters — a disappointment that he admitted on Tuesday took a week to get over — his thoughts turned to June and the US Open at Merion.
The PGA Tour moved its flagship event to May — and gave it the richest purse in golf — in the hope that the repositioning would somehow help The Players become “the fifth major.”
But it’s not.
And the problem is that they hold it every year at TPC Sawgrass, a quirky golf course that doesn’t sit well with many players.
“It’s a tricky kind of golf course,” said Woods on Tuesday.
Tricky, of course, is a euphemism for &*#$^#@!! Woods has won here twice, but he still doesn’t like the place.
One of his victories was a US Amateur; so the venue didn’t matter, especially to a teenager hungry for success.
The other was The Players in 2001, a time in his career when he would have won if they’d held the tournament in between the aisles of a Walmart.
Indeed, he’s never much liked any courses designed by Pete Dye. Dye-abolical, the world’s best players call him. A nom-de-guerre well-earned given his penchant for torturing them.
“It’s a golf course which requires discipline,” said Woods.
“You have to drive the ball really well, and then on top of that, now that it’s gone to Bermuda (grass), these greens have gotten a lot more fiery.
“You miss these greens at all, you’ve got some of the weirdest, funky little shots that you’ll ever face.
“It’s really hard to get the ball up-and-down.”
The real issue for Woods, though, is that he’s seldom straight enough to contend at TPC Sawgrass.
Indeed, since winning he’s only posted one top-10 finish, and that was in 2009 when he’d begun the final round tied for second and as the wind picked up — exacerbating his problems off the tee — he fell away, turning in a 73.
“It’s a course that you have to tippy-toe around, and that’s why Tiger, he’s won it, but he’s struggled here,” Johnny Miller said on Tuesday.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee goes back to the title of Hank Haney’s book, "The Big Miss," to explain Woods’ lack of success at The Players.
Essentially, the theory is that if there’s water on one side of a hole — as there is on many holes here — Woods tends to exaggerate a safety shot off the tee and the bailout leaves him in bad positions.
“He paid the penalty here for poor driving,” Chamblee said. “Even though he was still winning at Bay Hill, he was still winning at Torrey (Pines), he was still winning at Firestone, (it was) because he wasn’t penalized for poor drives there.
“But he’s penalized here. Again, this golf course, it asks something different of the best players in the world that they are not asked; they don’t have to drive it well at Torrey, Bay Hill or Doral, but they darned sure do here.
“That’s why it’s been a giant killer, this golf course.”
And it has been that. Woods may have only contended here twice but that’s an embarrassment of riches compared to some of the other big names of his generation.
Phil Mickelson has won The Players but that was the only time he’s been in serious contention here. Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and Jim Furyk — the latter two live nearby — have never contended.
“It’s just one of those courses where they’ve got some tough lines,” said Woods, referring to the angles at which players need to hit their shots.
“If you’re not playing well, you’re going to get exposed.”