Woods has answers but golf philosophy still unquestioned
AUGUSTA, Ga. — The doors to the interview room swung open, a television camera was stationed at the front, and heads turned in unison, waiting for a grand entry. You half-expected an official to enter the room and bellow out, in a nod to a presidential State of the Union address, “Ladies and gentleman, the best, most accomplished, most disgraced golfer on the planet, Tiger Woods!’’
Considering this is the Masters, the “most disgraced’’ part would certainly have been left out. But that’s probably the part that drew more than 200 media members to the small room at Augusta National Golf Club yesterday, eager to hear what Woods would say in his first full-blown news conference since an early-morning car crash Nov. 27 snowballed into an embarrassing sex scandal, keeping him away from competitive golf until this week.
Taking 49 questions for almost 35 minutes in a wide-ranging interview session, Woods was an interesting mix, sticking to his guns that some parts of his story will remain private, but also offering new information, some of it related to the scandal, some of it not. He was engaging and occasionally forthcoming. He apologized again for his infidelity, but made a special apology to his peers on the PGA Tour, noting how his actions put them in the challenging position of answering difficult questions during the five months Woods has been away from the game. He spoke about being treated by a doctor facing performance-enhancing drug charges, why he avoided the police in the days after the crash, and how he was able to fool so many people for so long.
And, perhaps above all else, Woods was quick to say his expectations haven’t been altered, despite the long layoff.
“Nothing’s changed,’’ Woods said. “I’m going to go out there and try to win this thing.’’
Most assumed his return at this tournament was partly because of its tightly controlled environment. Indeed, the crowd welcoming Woods back yesterday was respectful and well-behaved. But there were no restrictions on the news conference. Reporters were free to ask him anything, and only once, when he was pressed to disclose why he entered a rehabilitation facility, did he choose not to comment, saying, “That’s personal.’’
Woods’s involvement with Dr. Anthony Galea is also a personal matter, but one he was willing to talk about. Galea is a Canadian who was arrested for transporting performance-enhancing drugs, including human growth hormone.
“He never gave me HGH or any PEDs. I’ve never taken that my entire life. I’ve never taken any illegal drug, ever, for that matter,’’ Woods said.
So why did Woods choose Galea?
“Well, he’s worked with so many athletes,’’ he said. “There’s a certain comfort level to that when a person has worked with athletes.’’
Woods said federal investigators have contacted his agent, Mark Steinberg, about the Galea case, but have not asked for a meeting, like they did recently with Alex Rodriguez, another Galea patient.
Galea assisted Woods when he was rehabbing a knee injury. But Woods, without being asked, also said he suffered multiple tears in his right Achilles’ tendon, starting in December 2008, injuries that affected his 2009 season. All he did last year was win six tournaments (but no majors).
He admitted using two prescription medications: Ambien and Vicodin, but didn’t bite when asked if either played a role in the crash.
Woods said he’s working on improving his on-course demeanor. He said he’ll tone down his outbursts, but said that might also calm down the exuberance he’s known for when he’s playing well. He interacted with fans more yesterday, something Jim Furyk noticed.
“It was extremely positive,’’ Furyk said. “I expected it to be positive, but it was probably even better. I think the crowd was probably more chatty with him, and he was probably responding.’’
Said Woods: “To be out there in front of the people where I have done some things that are just horrible, and you know, for the fans to really want to see me play golf again, that felt great, it really did.’’
Woods discussed a number of other topics:
■Why he went to the hospital after the car crash: “I had a busted-up lip and a pretty sore neck. It required actually five stitches in my lip.’’
■Why he didn’t meet with police: “I did everything to the letter of the law. The lawyers gave me advice and I followed that advice.’’
■How he was able to win tournaments while leading a secret life: “The fact I won golf tournaments is irrelevant. It’s the pain and the damage that I’ve caused . . . that’s my responsibility. I did it, and I take full responsibility for it.’’
■How he fooled so many people: “I lied to a lot of people, deceived a lot of people, kept others in the dark.’’
■How someone who appeared to be so in control could have things completely unravel: “I don’t know. All I know is I acted just terribly, poorly, made just incredibly bad decisions . . . that have hurt so many people close to me.’’
■If his wife, Elin, will be in attendance this week: “Elin is not coming this week, no.’’
■On his reaction to some of his sponsors dropping him: “Do I understand why they dropped me? Of course. I made a lot of mistakes in my life. I felt like I was representing companies well in the past, but I wasn’t doing it the right way, because of what I was engaged in.’’
Woods usually meets with the media on Tuesday of Masters week. Now, with what had to be a big weight lifted on his path to societal rehabilitation, he can take the next two days to focus on playing. He said he’ll do so with a renewed sense of appreciation.
“Usually I kind of focus on placements of shots and getting ready, but [yesterday] was a little bit different,’’ Woods said. “I kind of took it in a little bit more, sort of more than I think I have in a long time, and it felt really good.
“I’m trying as hard as I possibly can each and every day to get my life better and stronger, and if I win championships along the way, so be it.’’