Tiger's cagey stance proves he's in the zone
IT'S the questions which Tiger Woods evades, avoids or even rejects which help explain what made Tiger Woods the best.
A few fascinating examples arose during Tiger's pre-tournament press conference at the Abu Dhabi Championship yesterday. Woods was asked if he agreed with Luke Donald's assessment last month that Rory McIlroy is the most talented player the Englishman had ever seen, including Tiger at his pomp.
"I think the most talented player I've ever seen in person was Seve," Woods replied. "I've never seen a person do things with a golf ball that he was able to do and the creativeness he had.
"To me, he most certainly had the most talent that I have ever seen in a person. I never saw Hogan hit a golf ball, nor Mr Nelson. I never saw Jack in his prime, but I did see Seve when I first came out here and I was able to play with him a few times. It was impressive."
It was good to hear Woods accord the legendary Spaniard the respect he undoubtedly deserves, but he still showed the alacrity of a seasoned politician by dodging the question, which essentially related to McIlroy's astonishing ability.
Tiger didn't establish himself as arguably the greatest golfer in history by placing any of his rivals, especially one as potent and potentially dangerous as McIlroy, on a pedestal.
Woods has been drawn to play with McIlroy and world No 1 Donald in the first two rounds this week. McIlroy has played with Woods in competition once before -- on Saturday of Tiger's Chevron World Challenge in December 2010.
They've teamed up a lot more often in practice, including a very convivial nine holes at Abu Dhabi Golf Club yesterday. Indeed, American Football fan McIlroy and Woods were still discussing the upcoming Super Bowl and the 6'4" New England quarter-back Tom Brady as they walked off the 18th green.
Another question Tiger only half-answered was who he thought to be the best player in the world right now and if it was important for him to be the best in the world again or chase Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors.
"I think it's just getting Ws along the way," he replied, scooting off on a tangent. "That's what I'm trying to do, get better each and every year and try to get wins. Unfortunately, I'd only one last year. I'd like to get more than that this year."
So he was asked again, who's the best in the world? Woods, currently 25th in the global rankings, cleverly replied: "I think Luke is ranked No 1, isn't he?"
Sure he is, but we all know who Tiger really thinks is best. He's been reared from year dot to believe it. In fairness, Tiger was forthright on the thorny issue of his former coach Hank Haney's upcoming book 'The Big Miss'.
"Am I disappointed? Yes. Frustrated? Certainly," he said, making it plain that he considered it a breach of trust.
Haney insists the book relates only to golf and the six years' work he and Woods did together on his swing, the Texan adding that he knew absolutely nothing about the extra-curricular activities which wrecked Tiger's marriage and reputation.
So what precisely does Tiger find so wrong about a book which, inevitably, will give golf enthusiasts an insight into his game and his swing? "I think I've answered all the questions on that," said Woods, bringing down the shutters.
Might this be another example of Tiger's determination to keep the secrets of his success safe? The first commandment for any of his employees is discretion, while Woods also has kept a tight lid on his workouts in the gym and routines on the practice range. Rarely, if ever, does Tiger strike up close friendships on tour. Everyone is kept at arm's length.
"It was part of his mystique," Paul McGinley recently observed. "It was part of being the ultimate competitor that he was never to let anyone in."
Woods is masterful at this mind game. It's already won him 14 Majors and, now that he starts a new year fully fit for the first time in nearly a decade, should be good for several more.