Rude: Tiger to find motivation in opponent's presser

Tiger Woods answers questions for the media during a news conference before playing a practice round at the Match Play Championship.

Tiger Woods answers questions for the media during a news conference before playing a practice round at the Match Play Championship.

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MARANA, Ariz. – There have been times when your mild-mannered correspondent, of all things, has caught flak for something he had written. That is not why the flak jacket came to be during World War II, to keep shrapnel away from the Fourth Estate, but sometimes a ballistic nylon vest can help protect a journalist when someone is going ballistic over one of his love letters.

The critiques have come in various forms. Coming right to mind were the two loud blue-streak pepperings, one administered by a major champion, the other by a tour wife. My head wounds have sufficiently healed to the point I clearly understand this is all part of the storytelling job. If you are to dish, then you must learn to take.

This topic is broached because there is one common theme to the dissent. In almost every case, the person complaining about one of my little essays had not read the piece himself but rather had heard about it from someone else.

And so, subsequently, when someone approaches and says he wants to talk about a column, this exchange happens:

“Did you read it?”

“No.”

“Then why don’t we talk about it after you read it?”

The moral of the story is this: Beware of the pass-along. The pass-along is always worse than the real thing on the printed page. The pass-along can get skewed and slanted and twisted and embellished.

“Did you see what so-and-so wrote about you?”

“No, what?”

And then comes a misrepresentation to some degree. It doesn’t take much to knock something out of context.

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This is brought up because it happened again this week – not involving a journalist but a player, namely Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, who happens to be Tiger Woods’ opponent in Wednesday’s first round of the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship.

Fernandez-Castano, 31, a five-time winner on the PGA European Tour, spent much of a Monday news conference praising Woods.

He also said he thought he had a chance to beat him.

Key snippets from his answers: “Playing against one of the best players in history ... I think I have nothing to lose. ... He’s probably not at his best ... and maybe I can beat him. ... If I play well I can beat him. ... He’s a great match player. ... I think he’s beatable. I need to play good ... and hope he doesn’t play his best. ... For me it’s a big privilege. If I win, fantastic. If I lose, I’ve lost to one of the best players of golf in history. ... I know I need to play my best and hopefully he doesn’t play his best.”

So Fernandez-Castano thinks he has a chance. Isn’t that what he’s supposed to think? Isn’t that why he’s here? After all, he has risen to No. 48 in the world, 28 spots below Woods at the moment. To do that, you need some level of confidence. And besides, of course he has a chance because anything can happen in 18-hole match play at this level, as this tournament shows annually, and particularly because Woods isn’t the terminator he once was.

When Fernandez-Castano walked out of that news conference, he turned to his agent and instructor and said, “Of all those 20 minutes I spent praising Tiger, all that will be written is I have a chance to beat Tiger.”

The agent, Rocky Hambric, laughed about the latest events in our sound-byte society Tuesday afternoon.

“He was anything but disrespectful or cocky,” Hambric said. “He’s probably the smartest player on the European Tour, so he was smart enough to know what the press was going to do with it. He was laughing about it this afternoon.”

Ah, yes, this afternoon. That’s when the pass-along occurred when Woods met the microphones and notepads.

Question from TV guy who wasn’t at Fernandez-Castano’s news conference: “Anyone who draws you is going to get a lot of media attention. And Gonzalo gave you praise. He said a couple of times, I think, ‘He’s beatable. I think I can beat him.’ And he repeated, ‘He’s not playing at his best.’ There’s been a history of people who have made comments like that to you at this event. What’s your reaction to those comments?”

Woods, with serious face: “I feel exactly the same way as he does. I feel he’s beatable, too.”

Lee Trevino used to say over and over when someone came within a neighborhood block of suggesting Jack Nicklaus wasn’t in his best form: “Don’t poke the bear. Let him sleep. Keep him in hibernation. Don’t rile him up.”

You can wager that Woods will take it as if he were poked. Woods has been a master at finding motivation in the smallest of things, in using comments as dangling carrots to gain an emotional edge.

Exhibit A is Stephen Ames. Before the Match Play first round in 2006, Ames, echoing so many others, marveled that Woods was winning so much considering the spots of bother his tee shots sometimes found.

Woods ate that bulletin-board material for breakfast and devoured Ames for lunch. Woods’ 9-and-8 victory is the most lopsided outcome in this event’s history, which dates to 1999.

This was not a Stephen Ames deal from the Spaniard. Anything but. That said, considering how Woods rolls, it’s reasonable to suggest Fernandez-Castano’s chances were better before those two news conferences and, of course, the dreaded pass-along.

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