Few people are capable of holding the attention of a packed room for a lengthy period of time. Arnold Palmer happens to be one of them — when the King talks, everyone and everything stops and you listen. As Palmer held court on Wednesday morning on the eve of the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, he fielded a variety of questions, but naturally, the absence of Tiger Woods dominated the conversation.
Woods called Palmer last Friday to let him know that for the second year in a row he wouldn’t be playing in the tournament that the King hosts at Bay Hill. Woods and Palmer chatted for a bit, but not for an hour, as one scribe was led to believe by a source.
“Whoever told you it was an hour is full of s—,” said Palmer on Wednesday at his annual press conference, as the room exploded in laughter.
Though Woods has won the event eight times, the 14-time major champion didn’t feel like his game was ready for competitive golf. (Which is disturbing on several levels. The fact that arguably the greatest player of all time has taken a leave of absence to work on his game for over a month, yet still doesn’t have the confidence that his game is tournament ready, is somewhat disconcerting — no, check that, extremely unsettling. It makes one wonder just how deep Woods’ issues run.) Woods won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in 2012 and 2013, but he missed the event last year because he was about to endure surgery for a back injury.
“There’s nothing confidential about it,” Palmer said. “He just, first of all, he said, ‘Arnold, you know, I can’t think of anything that I’d rather do than be there to play,’ and then he explained that he didn’t feel like his game was ready. He really wanted to work on it and get it ready to play, and I don’t blame him. I think if I were in his position I would probably have said somewhat similar things.
“He simply said that he just couldn’t present himself ready to play when he isn’t, and he’s going to work on his game and get through it, and that’s most of what he said, and I told him how much we would miss him and how sorry we were that he wasn’t coming because his record at this golf course is the best record in golf on any single situation such as his.”
Woods announced on February 11 that he was taking a leave of absence from the game, saying that the current state of his game wasn’t acceptable for tournament golf and that he would return when he felt like it was ready. In his first two starts of 2015, Woods shot scores of 73-82 to miss the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. The following week, he played only 11 holes in the first round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he’s won eight times, before withdrawing due to tightness in his back.
With Woods skipping Bay Hill, a tournament where he’s had so much success, his presence at the upcoming Masters is now being called into question.
Palmer offered his thoughts on Woods’ recent struggles.
“I’ve known him since he was 3 feet high,” Palmer said. “And he’s a great player. He was a very talented young kid with his father instructing him.
“For me to tell Tiger what he could do — there’s only one thing I can say, and that’s practice. And confidence. Regain the confidence he had when he was starting out, and that was what made him what he is and that’s the way he’ll get it back. Just regain the confidence and the ability to hit the golf ball.
“And this is an opinion that I haven’t even given to anybody, and that is he should do what he thinks he should do with his game. I think he should find a coach that he has confidence in and go work on his game, and that’s my best advice.”
Last August, Woods ended his four-year relationship with swing coach Sean Foley. Since then, he has hired Chris Como as a “swing consultant” — not a coach or instructor.