Tiger will need to focus at St. Andrews
Before the Masters, I asked Tiger Woods what kind of golfer he thought he’d be in the aftermath of the sex scandal that ruined his life.
“Well, I think how I was earlier in my career,” he said. “I was at peace.”
Peace, it turns out, has been elusive.
More than three months later, golf’s fallen hero is still searching for the sanctuary of silence.
Beyond that, Woods has been dealing with the thorny issue of where his young children, Sam and Charlie, will live given his estranged wife’s desire to leave Florida — a place she never liked — and re-settle in her native Sweden.
In between, there have been underwhelming performances on the golf course, reinforcing the notion that 2010, which promised so much given its major venues of Pebble Beach and St Andrews, will be a lost year for him.
"His life is a lot more complicated now,” said Tom Watson last week. “He doesn't hear that absolute silence when he's playing, and he mentioned when he's playing his best he hears nothing.”
There isn’t likely to be much silence on Tuesday at noon for Woods, who fronts the hounds of the Fleet Street press at his pre-tournament British Open news conference.
Two weeks ago, at the AT&T National where Woods was dumped as host (though his foundation, oddly, remained the main beneficiary) he spoke with optimism about ways his life’s moving forward.
“Outside the ropes there are certainly still distractions,” he said. “It is what it is. I think everyone has had distractions in their lives. I think that my life out here on Tour is becoming more normalized, getting out here and talking to you guys about the game of golf and why I haven't won a tournament yet this year or why I hit that shot or this shot.
“It wasn't like that at the beginning of the year. But now that certainly has changed, and for the good.”
It’s true that in April, one of his goals was to drag the conversation away from his dens of iniquity and back to the golf course.
And while Woods has, by and large, succeeded in doing that in the United States, he was reminded last week after an appearance at an Irish charity golf event — where he barely broke 80 in the first round — that sleeping dogs won’t be allowed to lie everywhere.
“I need to get home,” he said, before adding, “See my kids.”
Then came the kicker, when he was asked, in essence, whether he ever reflected on whether the playboy lifestyle he’d lived throughout his married life was “worth it.”
It’s not Tiger Woods’s style to bleed in public.
“I think you're looking too deep into this,” he said, unimpressed.
When the reporter attempted to follow up his question, Woods cut him off.
“Thank you,” he said.
Of course, he didn’t mean to thank him at all.
And I suspect, given Woods has already had several contentious run-ins with British reporters who’ve asked difficult questions since April, he won’t be thanking too many journalists after his Tuesday grilling at St Andrews either.
But there is another way of ending the questions and quickening the return of relative peace.
And that for Woods to win again. Success tends to make people forget quickly.
But can he win?
After he shockingly missed the cut at Quail Hollow on the back of a top-four finish at Augusta, I asked Stewart Cink, who played with Woods that Friday, what he made of the meltdown he‘d witnessed.
"That's the way it goes. He's obviously got things on his mind other than what's going on between the ropes right now,” the defending British Open champion said.
But what Cink said next stayed with me.
"I've seen him struggle like that off the tee, but he's usually the magician who gets the ball up and down and hits miraculous shots out of the trees and stuff," he said.
And that’s what’s really been shocking about the devolution of Tiger Woods this year.
The mental aspect of golf — at which he’s always been so much stronger than his peers — has turned into an Achilles heel.
At Aromimink last week his short game was just awful. He made a bogey from 60 yards short of the green on a par four as he chunked and bladed and three-putted his way to a 48th place finish.
Perhaps that’s the silence Watson speaks of.
The upside for Woods is that in the US Open and the Masters, even bringing his C-game, he had a chance to win.
Now he arrives at his favorite course in the world, St. Andrews, on which he won the 2000 and 2005 British Opens in a canter.
“It's the greatest golf course in the world for me,” he said of the home of golf last week. “I fell in love with it the first time I ever played it.”
What he needs now, more than ever, is for St. Andrews to love him back.