Woe betide Tiger Woods should he cross the path of Ian Poulter this week.
The relationship between the pair has been soured by the latest remarkable extract from Hank Haney’s book, The Big Miss, which claims that Woods disliked Poulter and accused him of trying to hitch a ride aboard his private jet. In a text to Haney, he wrote: “Can you believe this d--- mooched a ride on my plane?”
Poulter did not dispute the truth of the story on Wednesday but said: “I’ve no interest in it. It’s nothing to do with me.”
Still, one would pay a fair price to overhear any locker-room exchanges with Woods here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. The drip-feed of revelations from Haney’s memoir, due for publication next Tuesday, has stoked up controversy around Woods but no advance excerpt has been so barbed as the one aimed at Poulter.
The incident described by Haney took place in 2007, when Poulter “was cheeky enough to ask Tiger: ‘How are we getting home?’” after they had finished practice rounds at Oakmont, Pennsylvania, ahead of the US Open.
At the time Woods was living in Orlando, the city that Poulter calls home, but had allegedly never offered his neighbour a space on his plane. Haney relates how the Englishman turned up at the airport regardless, prompting Woods to send the withering text.
Haney’s disclosure marks a new nadir in a long-running stand-off between Woods and Poulter. The outspoken Poulter famously invited ridicule in a 2008 Golf World article where he asserted: “I haven’t played to my full potential and when that happens it will just be me and Tiger.”
He also drew a terse put-down at last year’s Masters after predicting, wrongly as it turned out, that Woods would fail to finish inside the top five. “Poulter is always right, isn’t he?” Woods replied.
Woods insists he has no plan to read Haney’s book, which paints him as self-absorbed and puerile. One extraordinary anecdote concerns the 2006 Ryder Cup at the K Club, where he shared a room with Zach Johnson, a devout Christian.
According to Haney, Woods “immediately purchased the adult movie 24-hour package and turned the television on.” Johnson ignored the prank but Woods told his coach: “It was so funny watching him acting like everything was normal. I got him pretty good.”
No surprise, then, that Woods steered clear of all Haney-related subjects yesterday. Instead, on the eve of his final tournament before the Masters, his mind was focused firmly on Augusta, where he made an unexpected visit last Sunday to fine-tune his preparations. He gave no hint, despite having withdrawn from this month’s Cadillac Championship with an Achilles strain, that he was injured.
Asked how if felt to play seven rounds in seven days, after the Bay Hill pro-am and the Tavistock Cup at Lake Nona earlier this week, Woods said: “Actually it’s going to be eight rounds.
"You guys don’t know that I played Augusta on Sunday. That’s one of the reasons I played Tavistock; it felt great at Augusta, and that was the test. Here I am, ready to go.”
In a field illuminated by Woods and arch-rival Phil Mickelson, there remains a conspicuous absence at Bay Hill of the world’s top three of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood.
Arnold Palmer, this event’s host, did not disguise his dismay with the British trio. “I’m certainly not happy that those fellas chose not to come this year,” the 82 year-old admitted.
“To have a couple of the top players not here, I’m kind of sorry for that.”
Palmer explained that McIlroy had written to him to request a meeting. “I’m not sure that I know exactly what he wants me to tell him or what he wants to hear from me,” the seven-time major champion said.
“But I look forward to seeing him and talking to him.”