Tiger ig­nores the tabloids and keeps his fo­cus on golf

JIM LITKE | AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS Strong start shows prom­ise for golfer amid win­less sea­son

Austin American-Statesman - - SPORTS -

ST. AN­DREWS, Scot­land — The tabloids over here banged the drum steadily for the bet­ter part of a week, hop­ing to guar­an­tee Tiger Woods a much row­dier re­cep­tion on this side of the At­lantic than he’s re­ceived so far back home.

Didn’t work. The best stunt any­one man­aged all day was pulled off by three young women be­hind the gallery ropes at No. 3 who shed their coats in a light rain to re­veal sleeve­less Tiger-print blouses just as their prey stepped onto the tee.

You might think their in­spi­ra­tion was yet an­other head­line in one of the pa­pers Thurs­day morn­ing: “Trou­bled Tiger Needs Sup­port of the Crowd, Now More Than Ever.” But no. Turns out the blouses, as well as the tick­ets, Cad­die Steve Wil­liams of­fers ad­vice to Tiger Woods as they ap­proach the sec­ond hole dur­ing the first round of the Bri­tish Open on the Old Course at St. An­drews, Scot­land, on Thurs­day. were pro­vided by an Ir­ish bookie seek­ing some pub­lic­ity on the cheap.

Two other tabloids, mean­while, fret­ted about Woods’ “mental frailty” and his de­ci­sion to change put­ters. Just like the women, Woods ig­nored the pa­pers, too.

He made his way around St. An­drews in near-per­fect con­di­tions — steady driz­zle, the gen­tlest of breezes — and shot 67. That left him four strokes be­hind leader Rory McIlroy, and pleased with the state of his game, his new put­ter and es­pe­cially his re­cep­tion.

“They’ve al­ways been re­spect­ful and en­thu­si­as­tic here,” Woods said, re­fer­ring to the gal­leries. “There’s no rea­son it would be any dif­fer­ent.

“As for my game, I’m in good shape. I took ad­van­tage of a golf course when I needed to take ad­van­tage of it.”

Woods was very good, mak­ing five birdies to off­set a lone bo­gey, but by his ex­act­ing stan­dards, not great. He also had trou­ble again clos­ing out what could have been a great round, missing a 4-footer for par at the 17th and a 10-footer for birdie at the 18th, both af­ter bril­liant lag putts over humps and hol­lows from off the green.

“It’s get­ting bet­ter ev­ery week,” Woods said. “Ev­ery week I’m play­ing, the things I’ve been work­ing on have been start­ing to come to­gether. I’m hit­ting shots that I haven’t hit in a long time. It’s build­ing.”

Woods has never gone more than seven tour­na­ments to start a sea­son with­out win­ning at least once, and this Bri­tish Open marks his sev­enth event. On top of that, he’s won the Open the past two times it was held at St. An­drews, in­clud­ing a record-set­ting per­for­mance in 2000.

Yet the longer his win­less streak stretches, the eas­ier it be­comes for the fo­cus to shift away from his golf and back to his re­cently check­ered past.

He de­flected a lot of ques­tions about his per­sonal life this week, fi­nally say­ing, “I’m try­ing to be­come a bet­ter player and a bet­ter per­son.”

If Woods’ life re­mains un- set­tled, it’s show­ing less and less in his play.

Woods hit the ball laser­straight off the tees. He also ap­peared com­fort­able solv­ing the chal­lenges that links golf presents, whether it re­quired flight­ing his ap­proach shots left or right, low or high, or man­u­fac­tur­ing del­i­cate shots into the greens.

Close pal Mark O’Meara thinks all the pieces are in place once more and all that’s left is for Woods to put them back to­gether.

He pointed out that Woods had al­ready fin­ished tied for fourth in the sea­son’s first two ma­jors, the Masters and U.S. Open, “and he wasn’t close to be­ing on his game.”

“He’s not all there, men­tally, but his game is com­ing back,” O’Meara added. “I told him, ‘You can have all the fame, all the money, all the vic­to­ries, but when your per­sonal life is mixed up, none of that mat­ters. Life is short, and you want it to be happy.’”

Alastair Grant

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