Tait: Tiger plays it too safe at press conference

Tiger Woods during a practice round at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club prior to the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - Tiger Woods just doesn’t get it. Probably never will.

Sitting through a Woods press conference is sometimes like watching a tedious four-hit, 1-0 baseball game. Woods played baseball as a youngster – he must have been sent up to bunt every time he was at bat because he seems incapable of swinging at anything except a golf ball.

That much was obvious from his initial thoughts on his debut in the $2.7 million Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.

Every once in a while Woods tries to hit a double or triple but then he seems to catch himself and goes back into bunt mode, knocking back questions that would provide some insight into arguably the greatest golfer that’s ever lived.

For example, after saying he was playing the Abu Dhabi out of courtesy to HSBC for investing so much in his foundation over the years, he then admitted payment of appearance fees influences his schedule.

“I’d have to say, yes, it certainly does,” Woods said. “That’s one of the reasons why a lot of guys play in Europe. They do get paid. I think the only tour that doesn’t pay is the U.S. Tour. A lot of guys play all around the world and they get appearance fees. Only place we don’t get it is the U.S.”

Call that a stolen base on Woods’ part. He’s admitting that he’s being paid to play here. And it won’t be anything short of a large, seven-digit figure.

Appearance money has been a given on the European Tour, from day one. That’s what’s drawn Woods and other big U.S. players to play in Europe over the years.

Abu Dhabi this week carries a prize fund of $2.7 million against the $6 million at the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines on the PGA Tour, where Woods normally kicks off his season. Yet, because of appearance money paid to Woods, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer, the Abu Dhabi field contains six of the world’s top 10 against just one at Torrey Pines.

Woods – surprise, surprise – would not comment on whether the PGA Tour should go down the appearance fee route.

“Where we offset it (appearance money) is our prize money is pretty high. We certainly play for more money than any other tour in the world. I think the average winner gets a $1 million a week.”

Maybe so, but tour pros are like the rest of us – they’ll take the fast buck every day of the week. Maybe the PGA Tour needs to consider abolishing the ban on appearance money. It’s certainly works for the European Tour. Although don’t be silly and think Woods would say that. That would be like him trying to hit a home run.

Woods was fine on the usual softball questions pitched to him on his first visit to the UAE’s richest Emirate. So he was effusive on questions like “Why do you love golf?” “Do you have a vibe at all about how things are going to go this year?” And of course, the usual off-topic questions that helps Woods give his "I’m a man of the world" shtick, such as being asked to comment on the fact England is playing a pretty major series of cricket games against Pakistan here in Dubai.

The most illuminating view into how the Woods mind works came when he was asked about former coach Hank Haney’s decision to write a book about their time together.

While Woods initially told news outlets he was disappointed that Haney was writing the book, he didn't want to go into any further details on Tuesday.

“Am I disappointed? Yes. Frustrated? Certainly, because I have to answer the questions. It’s been a while since I haven’t had to answer those questions. I’ll have to continue doing it. Hopefully…. this will come to an end.”

Poor Tiger.

The question he wouldn’t answer was the insightful one put to him by the Irish Independent golf writer Karl MacGinty.

“I am assuming you would appreciate why people in general and golfers in particular would like an insight into your game and swing and how things have developed,” MacGinty said. “Please tell me what’s so wrong with Hank writing a book about you?”

We waited with baited breath. We were disappointed.

“I’ve answered all the questions on that.”

Then came the softball, and final, “Why do you love golf” question and Tiger followed up a bunt down the line with a walk to first base.

Tiger’s answer to McGinty’s question said more about Woods than it did about Haney. And why is it OK for Woods to accept appearance money to play in Abu Dhabi, but wrong that Haney should pen a book about his time with Woods?

The greatest golfer of this generation has taken a lot from the game and hasn’t given a lot back. He could do so by opening up more.

Hopefully his play on the Abu Dhabi fairways will be better than his performance off it.

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