Tiger Woods is at his most engaging and, no coincidence, least rehearsed when he’s telling stories about the old days.
When he does, there’s no agenda, no scores to settle. He drops his guard and speaks like the guy on the next bar stool.
So it was on Tuesday when Woods was asked about Sam Snead, the West Virginia legend whose record of 82 PGA Tour wins is now in Woods’ sights after he won No. 74 on Sunday.
“I met Sam when I was 5,” Woods said. “He was playing at Calabasas (Country Club) out in LA, doing that outing where he would play with a new group every two holes. So he had nine groups, and I was this little snot-nosed kid at 5 years old that he had to play the last two holes with.
“I remember it was a par 3. You know, I’m 5, I can’t carry it very far. I hit it into the water, and he tells me to go pick it up out of the water.
“I was slightly competitive even at that age, and I didn’t like him telling me to pick the ball up, because my dad always taught me you play it as it is; there’s no such thing as winter rules.
“So I went in and played it and I made bogey on that hole, the par 3, and I made bogey on the last hole.
“I still have the card at home, he signed it, and he went par-par and I lost by two.
“That was the first time I ever met Sam, but after that we’ve had countless dinners and conversations, and he was always so funny to be around — and the stories he would tell and the needling, the needling was nonstop.”
Fittingly, Woods was channeling his inner Snead as he toured The Greenbrier — a de facto ancestral home for Snead — for the first time.
Unfortunately for him, the tour didn’t last long.
Woods hit his drive on the first tee and then heard the horn blow, warning of impending thunderstorms. Just like that, he was gone, leaving his ball in the fairway.
So he will play the Fourth of July pro-am, which will double as his only practice round for The Greenbrier Classic on a course he has never seen.
Not that he seemed too perturbed.
He’s coming off his third win of the season at the AT&T National. His game seems very much back on track. And his confidence, too.
“If you have a positive tournament, you try and ride that,” he said. “And if you had a negative tournament, it didn’t exist.
“So I, obviously, feel very excited about what I’d done last week.”
That he’s even here is a testament to the unrelenting pursuit of Woods by The Greenbrier’s gregarious — and wealthy — owner, Jim Justice.
It has been a pursuit that has set tongues wagging, given the PGA Tour prohibits appearance fees. Just how did Justice get Woods (and Phil Mickelson) to show up to a fledgling tournament in West Virginia sandwiched between major Opens?
Woods was asked how Justice “sold” him, causing muffled laughter in the media center. Did he “have to do a lot of pulling your arm?”
“It’s exciting to go to other places in the world that I have never been,” Woods responded with a straight face. “I’ve traveled all around the world, but I’ve never been to West Virginia.”
Well, if you say so, Tiger.
Interesting to note, too, that Sergio Garcia appears on the cover of The Greenbrier Classic pairings program but is not in the field.
Whatever the motivation, Woods is here and, now that he’s finding his old grooves, sounds as though he’s here to win.
“I finally have an understanding of everything that he wants me to do,” he said of his coach, Sean Foley. “Sometimes, it’s not quite there, but I know the fixes.”
It made me wonder, though, how he then explained what happened on the weekend at the US Open, when he seem primed for a 15th major but faded badly.
“It’s the US Open, so if you’re fractionally off in a championship like that, especially on that golf course, it doesn’t take much,” he said.
“I hit a bunch of fairways, but they didn’t stay on the fairway on Saturday. Hence, I was playing from the rough. You can’t control the ball from the rough, and I missed a couple opportunities. Next thing you know, I’m shooting a high score.
“It wasn’t as far off as my score my indicated. I did a lot of things right.”
One of them wasn’t putting, and on that front he gave a shout-out to Notah Begay, his old teammate at Stanford with whom he talked putting before last week’s tournament at Congressional.
“It was kind of more of a philosophical talk, about how I used to putt, what I used to think about,” he said. “And Notah’s known me since I was 11 years old; we go way back.
“He knows my game inside and out, and just talking to him and picking his brain about what he thought about a few things. He made me think back to some of my things I used to think about in college, how I told him how to putt.
“He said, you might want to go back to that, so I did and I putted pretty good.”
Inevitably, Woods was asked about being “back,” whatever that means, and answering 2-1/2 years of questions about when he’d be “back.”
“You do that for a couple years,” he said, his voice trailing off. “Sometimes you guys can be a little annoying.”