DUBLIN, Ohio – Your graying correspondent has never seen Tiger Woods as relaxed in a pre-tournament news conference as he was Tuesday when scrumming with the Fourth Estate at the Presidents Cup. He has appeared less chilled and happy at a trophy presentation. He might not have been looser in a nightclub VIP section.
But then it makes sense in a few ways. He’s at the Presidents Cup, a.k.a. Ryder Cup Lite, where players talk about having fun instead of feeling pressure, where the United States has won the past three meetings by at least four points, where the drama rarely resembles the eleventh hour of a major championship, where smiley faces seem to outnumber game faces.
On top of all that, Woods was at Muirfield Village, where he has won the Memorial Tournament five times, and had just gotten done playing 10 holes with the laid-back and happy-go-lucky likes of Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker. It is medically impossible to raise one’s blood pressure when hanging around them.
In a departure from the norm, Woods answered most questions in multiple paragraphs instead in brief phrases, actually punctuating one lengthy discourse with a big-toothed grin and the words, “Kind of a roundabout answer to your question.”
Tiger Woods, rambling. Print the transcript and get it framed.
This is not to say he was as humorous as Robin Willliams or as erudite as Winston Churchill or as open as Rory McIlroy. He wasn’t, and never will be. But if you can find a transcript where he consistently gave longer answers, I’ll eat the paper.
Among other topics, Woods went on about how funny Dufner and Kuchar are in the team room, behind closed doors, when players go at it in ping pong and tease one another like sixth-graders on a playground.
“You wouldn’t expect the things that come out of his mouth,” Woods said of the dryly humorous Dufner.
Care to share?
“Nooo,” Woods said, drawing laughter. “(Kuchar) is the same way. They are pretty funny guys and … you expect the unexpected with those two.”
Well, he was asked, are they funny ha-ha or funny peculiar?
“Both,” he said. “And it could be in the same sentence.”
It follows there’s conjecture that Woods will pair with Kuchar in foursomes and Dufner and four-ball this week. One hint is that Kuchar practiced with a Nike ball, the kind Woods uses, on Tuesday and said, “I get a feeling Tiger and I will probably play together this week, which I look forward to.” Another clue is that Dufner said he and Woods would make a good partnership.
Both pairings make sense if for no other reason than Woods likes being around them. As Woods’ longtime partner Steve Stricker (expected to team with Jordan Spieth) says, “It always helps when (Woods) feels comfortable with whoever he’s going out with.”
When last seen, at the Tour Championship two weeks ago, Woods uncharacteristically talked about being fatigued and blamed poor incoming play one day on tired legs. It follows that he was asked what he did during the off week besides rest.
“Chased a 4- and 6-year-old,” he said. “That’s what I did. I didn’t touch a club until Friday, and that was just putting. Just shut it down. Did a lot of training. Got my body feeling good. Then started to practice and get ready, and by the weekend I was full-go.”
One inquiring mind wants to know whether he ever caught his two kids.
“I’m taller, so, yeah,” he replied, drawing more laughter.
Woods also weighed in that he prefers the Presidents Cup method of pairings, in which one captain puts up a player and the other captain matches with the player of his choice. That system has worked well for Woods in singles, for he defeated Greg Norman in 1998 and Vijay Singh in 2000 after requesting that he play them.
Or as Woods put it regarding the latter: “I wanted a piece of Vijay (laughter) and was able to get him (2 and 1). You can do things of that nature. You can get guys who have been battling for a number of years who have rivalries and you can put them out there.”
The Ryder Cup would be improved by adopting such a system. Similarly, the Presidents event would enhance chances of close competition and growth by using the Ryder’s 28 points instead of the current 34.
For certain, the two international cup matches give off different vibes, the Ryder feeling more serious. Results are different, too, for the U.S. cruises in one and struggles in the other.
In other words, 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson might want to tell his team to free-wheel it and act like they are at the Presidents Cup.
“I think it’s fun (here) because … it’s a good group of guys,” Woods said of his team this week. “We all take a pretty good ribbing, and it’s constant.”
And you thought Chuck Barris was the Unknown Comic?