Tiger Woods spent much of Tuesday’s media session at the Masters defending himself — first against Twitter machine Ian Poulter, and mostly against writers questioning whether the best days are behind the 14-time major champion.
First, Poulter’s honest assessment of Tiger’s chances this week:
“I don’t think he’ll finish in the top five,” said the world’s 16th-ranked player with a frankness that has become as much a trademark as his taste in pink trousers. “The shots he was hitting at Doral [the venue for the recent world golf championship, in which Woods finished 10th] were very inconsistent. You can’t afford to hit shots like that on this golf course [Augusta National] and get away with it. I don’t think you want to rely on your short game that much around this place.
“You can never rule him out – he has such an incredible record on this golf course. We’ve seen him hit the shots in various situations when he has put himself in trouble and he has one of the best short games in the world – that will not disappear from him. When he gets in position where he’s close, he generally holes putts at the right time. He hasn’t done it for a while but I think if he starts to hole the putts at the right time then you will see the Tiger of old come out and that’s dangerous. But I don’t see it this week.”
He’s spot on, no? Poulter has since recoiled via Twitter because of the pro-Tiger backlash/media sensationalism, tweeting:
“Note to self when asked about Tiger always bullshit & say what they want to hear, or you will be ridiculed. Noted not answering anymore.”
The media thirsts for the quote, and then kills you for it. I gotta take Poulter’s side here.
The opposite of Poulter is, of course, Tiger, who gives one-word answers, um-hmms, and dry, Belichickian responses, because, well, you know what happens if an athlete of his stature speaks his mind. (See LeBron James.) Woods was asked about Poulter’s projection, and quipped, “Poulter’s always right, isn’t he?”
Aside from that manufactured tiff, Woods took on an onslaught of questions about his game.
Asked if he feels his game is sound enough to win, Woods flashed that trademark smirk and grunted an affirmative.
“Ummm, hmmm,” he said.
Like, with which parts?
“Everything,” he said.
Despite a career-worst drought that stretches back 19 months without a PGA Tour title — he hasn’t won at Augusta since 2005, his longest winless skein in the four majors — Woods never hesitated when asked if we had seen his best days.
“No,” he said sharply, offering no illumination.
Pressed, given that the current facts don’t fit his premise even remotely, Woods laughed. Maybe this falls under the heading of whistling in the graveyard, but he sounds like he’s not lacking for confidence in spite of the fact that he hasn’t contended in months.
“Well, I believe in myself,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with believing in myself. God, I hope you guys feel the same way about yourselves. You know, that’s the whole idea, that you can always become better.”
I personally was most interested when he talked about losing in a playoff to Graeme McDowell at the Chevron World Challenge. Well, he did lose, you just couldn’t tell from the way he described it. It sounded like, I don’t know, he had just won his fifth green jacket.
“I had played so well for three rounds, and then I was so excited the entire year came down to one shot and I pulled it off, one shot on the 72nd hole when I had to hit it in there stiff, and I did it. Unfortunately I haven’t been in the same position where I have had to hit a golf shot where I needed since then on the last hole.”
He did lose, right?
(AP Photo/Dave Martin)