Commentary

Time to let your guard down, Tiger

Originally Published: July 13, 2010
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland -- Tiger Woods' body language -- arms tightly crossed, eyes unblinking, only one or two smile sightings -- said … no, screamed, "Ask all the questions you want, but I will not break."

Another day, another tournament, another news conference and another example that Woods has latched and locked whatever window was briefly open to his inner thoughts. His answers during Tuesday's standing-room-only presser at The Open Championship were drab stuff. Then again, so were the questions.

I counted 35 exchanges during the interview session. Eighteen of them were golf related; 17 were post-sex-scandal related. The non-golf topics were predictable, mostly because we've heard versions of the same questions since Woods first met with the media in early April at the Masters.

The interview buzzwords of choice: redemption … the F-word … divorce … parenthood … FBI meeting … image rehab … blah, blah, blah.

[+] EnlargeWoods
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesTiger Woods played another game of cat and mouse with the media on Tuesday at St. Andrews. That's par for the course with the world's No. 1-ranked golfer.

Woods gave nothing Tuesday, except a variation of the same responses he's given for months. He especially dreaded the latest session because it included the British tabloids, which were getting their first shots at Woods on UK soil since the scandal broke eight months ago.

"At the Masters you made a big point that you wanted to interact with the crowd a lot more," one of the writers said of Woods' morning practice round, poking slightly, hoping perhaps to provoke. "You seemed a bit unhappy during your practice round. Will you continue to try to interact?"

Woods immediately activated the defense shields.

"I was fine this morning," he said. "I don't know what you are talking about."

"You looked a little upset out there this morning."

"Not at all," Woods said coolly.

The new Tiger is tired of talking about the old Tiger. By his calendar, he's been addressing the controversies since November. And it shows. In fact, I can tell you what he'll say before he says it. OK, I can't tell you about his changing putters after 11 years. That one came out of nowhere Tuesday.

Woods wants to turn the corner on his personal life. Can you blame him? He's been a human punch line for months. If not for Lindsay Lohan, Mel Gibson and BP, he'd still be a favorite of Leno's joke writers.

But once, just once, I'd like for Woods to walk into the interview room, dial down the defense shields and, when asked the inevitable question about the post-scandal Tiger, say something like: "I'm not asking for sympathy; I don't deserve that. But I'm hurting. And it's hard to play golf -- it's hard to do anything -- when your life is upside down, when you realize the impact of your actions. You guys want to take your shots? Fair enough. But this is real life, with real people. If any of you have ever had marital problems, you know what I'm talking about. It's hard and I'm just trying to put my life -- and the life of my kids -- back together. You don't have to respect me. All I'm asking is that you respect what I'm trying to do. Deal?"

It will never happen, of course. His personality isn't built for that kind of conversation. I'm not sure he's capable of thinking in those terms. I think he thinks he has said everything that needs to be said.

To his credit, at least he showed up for the news conference. He's shown up for every news conference since his return -- pretournament sessions, postround sessions (with the lone exception of stiffing the media one day at The Memorial). And he's done it even when he wasn't in contention for one of the tournaments. He might not have said much, but unlike some big league ballplayers, he didn't go hide in the trainer's room.

If he thinks people will move on from his scandal, they will (and have). But he still needs to caulk the open spaces between the private Tiger and the public Tiger. Too much of a draft coming through.

He'll hate to hear it, but Woods could learn something from the world's No. 2 golfer, Phil Mickelson. Mickelson's life has been turned upside down, too (his mother and his wife are battling breast cancer), but he has handled those issues with honesty, grace and dignity, and when appropriate, with a sense of humor.

During Mickelson's interview session Tuesday, he cracked wise (lovingly) about Scottish accents. He even imitated some of the thick, Scottish brogue. He traded one-liners with writers. When someone questioned him about not winning majors, Mickelson gently and cleverly reminded him, "Yeah, April went well."

April, as in the month he won the Masters.

Mickelson was, well, human. He had a conversation, as opposed to treating the thing as though it were the Spanish Inquisition. Sure, the circumstances are vastly different from those facing Woods, but would it kill him if he loosened up? Just a little?

There are trust issues between Woods and the media. Always have been. Woods is an intensely private person who works in an intensely public arena. He makes his living on national and international television.

But it's time for Woods to realize the world -- and the media -- isn't against him. Tranquility wrist bracelets are a nice start. But there's nothing wrong with mixing in an actual heartfelt answer once in a while.

Here's an offer: better questions, better answers?

Just think about it, Tiger.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn.com. Hear Gene's podcasts and ESPN Radio appearances by clicking here.

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