The PGA Tour could be having the most contentious season in its history with the divisive issue of anchored putting, Vijay Singh filing a lawsuit for being linked publicly with performance-enhancing drugs, and, of course, the spat between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia that grew uglier by the day.
When Woods met the media at Muirfield Village on the eve of the Memorial Tournament, he was asked his reaction to the news golf is generating off the course and whether it’s good for the sport.
“Well,” he said after a short pause, “I’ve won four times this year.”
He drew laughter when he offered nothing more after that than a tight-lipped smile. His message was clear: The controversies engulfing the game may rile others up, but they’re not a distraction to him.
Woods will begin the pursuit of his second straight Memorial tournament title and sixth overall when tees off at 1:16 p.m. today with Fred Couples and Keegan Bradley. But the Sergio saga is still swirling — though it hasn’t seem to have penetrated Tiger’s trademark tunnel vision.
After a couple of weeks of sniping, Woods was subjected to a racially insensitive remark by Garcia at a European Tour event in Wentworth, England. The Spaniard, who is skipping the Memorial for the fifth straight year, apologized profusely afterward and said he made an effort to reach out to Woods, who apparently is in no mood to reconcile.
Asked if he had thought about allowing Garcia to make his amends in person, Woods said: “So I have to fly to Wentworth? I was at home.”
He added: “It’s already done with. … It’s time to move on.”
Jack Nicklaus, who also had his pre-tournament press conference Wednesday and drew a standing-room audience of about 150 in the media center (roughly twice as many as Woods), played the game in more civil times and bemoans how the age of social media seems to fuel controversies.
“We were trying to figure out how to get somebody to write about (the tour) when we played,” he said. “I think today you have to figure out, how do you KEEP somebody from writing about anything? It’s a big difference.”
“For the most part today, you’re in a fish bowl. I always harp on Mike & Mike (Greenberg and Golic, the ESPN sports talk hosts), and I happen to like the show. But they get on a subject, and that subject is all week. … There’s a lot of mountains made out of mole hills. It’s a different day.”
Nicklaus found himself making headlines earlier this year when he said he had never talked to Tiger for more than a minute or two, inferring that the world’s No. 1 player and the record-holder for the most career majors weren’t as chummy as they appeared.
“I was asked the question, How much does Tiger talk to me about (the) record? And I said we haven’t had more than a minute or two conversation about that ever. … The article comes out, ‘Jack doesn’t talk to Tiger.’ Well, I’ve talked to Tiger a lot, but not about that subject.
“Things get moved beyond where they are. The Tiger-Sergio thing, I mean, it’s stupid. Do guys have an issue with one another? They usually resolve it themselves. You guys want to resolve it in newspapers today. Nobody needs that.
“They’ve both finally said, ‘It’s enough. Forget it, guys. Let’s move on.’ ”
Tiger probably is especially eager to move on to golf this week, given his record at Muirfield Village. He’s never finished worse than a tie for 22nd in his last 11 appearances.
Of course, he tends to devour Nicklaus courses. He’s also won a PGA championship at Valhalla in Kentucky, a Canadian Open at Glen Abbey and a World Golf Championship at Mount Juliet in Ireland, all Nicklaus layouts. And Firestone Country Club in Akron was redesigned by Jack. Woods has won seven times there.
“I’ve always played Nicklaus courses well. I’ve won on quite a few, whether it was in junior golf, college and now professional golf,” Woods said. “For some reason, I just feel comfortable in his golf courses, the way he sets it up.
“There is ample room off the tees. The greens are really severe. If you miss the greens, it tests your short game. Those are the things I think I do well.”
Woods, though, isn’t just capable of turning a Nicklaus course into his personal playpen. He has 78 PGA victories, which means he’s faring quite well at other venues, too.
“Most golf courses set up well for Tiger Woods,” Rory McIlroy said. “He’s won the Players (Championship) this year, and that was a golf course that people said didn’t quite suit him.
“The guy is good wherever he goes to play. It’s not like to goes to the same courses. He can win anywhere.”