MARANA, Ariz. – Elvis had re-entered the building, or at least come back to play in the Accenture Match Play Championship.
Either that or the lunch line had opened up, because a large circle of media members went rushing this way and that outside the back of the clubhouse here at Dove Mountain.
In truth, it was the first sighting of a player, a guy who could offer comment on what Tiger Woods had just said, so into the frenzy was turned up for . . .
The gentleman from Thailand, Thongchai Jaidee.
Big exhale by media members, big smile by golfer.
Never had a man probably been so happy to not speak very much English, because as Jaidee strode toward the locker room, perhaps 35-40 media members cleared a path and let him go on by.
No questions, no sound bites.
But no worries, either, because it was soon announced that Sergio Garcia, who was scheduled to play in the first of eight third-round matches, was approaching. Sure enough, the precocious Spaniard popped out from behind the steering wheel of his nifty courtesy car, and smiled at the reporters.
At which time he said, “Sorry, guys, not before the round.”
Talk about your omens.
When Garcia doesn’t want to talk, especially when it involves a negative story involving one of his bitter rivals, well, you can consider just two options. One, the PGA Tour asked players to be silent or at the very least extra careful as to what they said. Or, two, players honestly don’t think there’s any way to win in this matter, so why go there?
Tim Clark seemed to subscribe to these thoughts, but at least he provided even more levity to a morning that was jam-packed with silly scenes. Draping a sweater over his head, Clark came walking out of the fitness trailer toward media members who couldn’t stop laughing.
“Man, I’m teeing off in an hour,” Clark said with a laugh to a reporter’s request for a comment.
And on and on it went. Lucas Glover, eliminated in Wednesday’s first round of the Accenture, was headed out of the locker room, travel golf bag in tow. “I’m not stopping,” Glover said. Then he amended that. He’d stop in Phoenix, which is where he’s playing next week.
Next came Paul Casey, usually a very cooperative chap, but with ear plugs in and iPod on, he never wavered off line. It was straight to the locker room, and when minutes later Ian Poulter did similarly, well, it was as definitive a statement as could be made.
Poulter didn’t want to talk?
Good gracious, what’s next? Cactus plants will pull up their roots and walk off the desert?
“I haven’t seen it,” Poulter explained to members of the European press, who by now were like the rest of the media. Bored and desperate for something, anything, no matter how small.
Finally, it came. First from Luke Donald of England, then from American Stewart Cink. Both agreed to speak, but only if it was short and sweet.
“I think it was a sincere apology,” Donald said. “Seems like he’s getting the care and the help that he needs.”
From Cink, who made it clear he hadn’t watched the entire Woods statement, came this: “It sounds like (the statement) is part of the recovery or the healing process that he has to go through.”
Woods’ televised statement had been on every TV within the Dove Mountain clubhouse and since the start of the third round was two hours away, everyone was glued to the telecast. Waitresses, security officials, clubhouse attendants, reporters, PGA Tour media officials . . . everyone watched in quiet, jotting down notes or nodding heads.
But when it came to get players talking, well, that was tough. Then again, it figured to be. After all, in this match play tournament, only 16 players are still involved and a good many of them – from Jaidee to Charl Schwartzel to Jeev Milkha Singh to Oliver Wilson to Ryo Ishikawa, who avoided the press by sliding into a sidedoor to the locker room – play mostly outside America and it’s legitimate to consider that their comments aren’t significant.
Not so for Butch Harmon, the famed swing coach who stood near the putting green waiting for the two players he coaches who are still in the field, Nick Watney and Cink, to appear. For years, Harmon worked with Woods and surely knows the golfer better than most.
“For me,” Harmon said, “it was just good to see him.”
Whereas many have been predicting that Woods would be returned to golf in time for the Masters (April 8-11), Harmon shook his head. He has said all along that he wouldn’t be surprised if Woods stayed away the entire season.
“People have always talked of chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors,” Harmon said. “A lot has been made of that. But In all the years I was with him, never once did I hear him talk of that. Not once.”
Yes, Harmon watched Woods deliver the statement. “It must have been hard on him. It must have been emotional. But if he’s serious about getting to the root of whatever problem he has, it’s going to be a lot of perseverance, a lot of soul-searching.
“Personally, I don’t think he’ll play this year.”
Cink didn’t want to get into that part of the equation, but as one of the few players who agreed to make comments before Round 3 began, he stuck to the situation Woods is in.
“I’ve got a couple of good friends at home who have gone through the alcohol abuse program with AA and similar steps are taken in the healing process,” Cink said. “You have to make amends to the people you’ve hurt, and you have to start the bridge to the other side. And I think that’s where Tiger is.”
And with that, Cink nodded, then went to leave. His match against Schwartzel was less than an hour away.
David Feherty of CBS, who interviewed Cink, nodded and thanked the British Open champ for stopping. The cooperation was appreciated on a morning when the golf world was circling on an axis never before experienced.
But being the brilliant wit he is, Feherty mentioned his own publicized battles with alcohol and observed to Cink that he didn’t know about that “bridge” that the player had referenced.
“David, I don’t think you ever paid the toll to get over that bridge,” Cink said.
Yes, a round of laughs were had by those within the small circle behind the clubhouse, most especially Feherty and Cink. It was a signal that we were about to return to the golf.
At least here at Dove Mountain.