PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FL. — When Tiger Woods “played” Sawgrass the last time, he came dressed in an undertaker suit, a glum countenance and he took no questions. He was breaking months of silence, not par. His audience was one of his own selection, not including his estranged wife. It was, in effect, a confessional, but in the end, he used 13 minutes of television time only building on the mystery that enveloped him. Tiger returned this week, this time in his work clothes and accompanied by the tools of his trade. He arrived direct from Quail Hollow in Charlotte, where he had suffered through one of the most dismal performances of his career, including a round of 79, and a missed cut. It wasn’t just the absent quality of the game he played, but his detached mood, an artist playing a game from which he was detached. His game and his mind were not on the same frequency, and it was mirrored in the vague expression on his face. For many years, Woods has dealt with mass interviews by the press with the aloofness of a resistant witness. At Sawgrass this week, he has been an uncommonly civil respondent, at times, even quite amusing. When asked, ” The errors you made, have they been more physical, or mental?” he injected some humor into his reply.
“All of the above,” he said. “Didn’t hit the ball very good, didn’t think myself around the course, didn’t putt well, didn’t chip well. I did tee up the ball well….really well. It just kind of got worse from there.”
His marriage fallen apart, his wife and children distancing themselves from him, he has found himself the central target of a life in shambles. He finds his escape on the golf course.
“It is more taxing certainly away from the course, the paparazzi following me, and all those kinds of things,” he said. “You know, helicopters don’t normally fly over you on the range and film you….but that’s the case now.” It was, as far as I know, the first time he has spoken as openly of his life as the bulls-eye of the day. So he finds the TPC at Sawgrass, the home grounds of the American tour, a kind of escape from his self-created trauma.
He arrived early from Charlotte and found Sawgrass no more friendly than Quail Hollow. On his first nine practice holes he splashed five balls in the water, and forged on with only a mild curse. The Players hasn’t been one of his more successful events. He has won only once, in 2001, which ties him with the transient New Zealander, Craig Perks, among others. He has safely made the cut with rounds of 70-71, three under par,safely inside the cut line, but well off the score posted by the Englishman, Lee Westwood, regularly a threat, but never a winner on this side of the Atlantic. Just a week ago at Charlotte, Rory McIlroy barely made the cut by a stroke, then blew out the field. Different story this week. Rounds of 73-72 took the Ulster lad out of the field. Thus, the stage is set.