Still acting like the old Tiger in new world
JOHNS CREEK, Ga. - Tiger Woods stepped from behind a microphone, thankful to be done with a short interview that felt like an intrusion. He took 23 questions, most of them about his golf, a few others about his left leg, then walked off without looking at anyone. "That's why you guys listen," he muttered under his breath, "and I play." He was as dismissive as ever, another example of how much has changed in his world, and how little he realizes it. He is not the Tiger Woods he once was.Such bravado used to be accepted from Woods because he always backed it up. On the golf course, he set an unparalleled standard of excellence. Starting Thursday, he'll compete in the PGA Championship without having won anything in nearly two years. His agent said he once rejected 100 emails a day from companies wanting to get involved with the world's most famous athlete. In the 16 months since Woods returned from a sex scandal, he still doesn't have a corporate logo on his golf bag. His only new endorsement is a Japanese heat rub. One thing that still looks the same is that red shirt on Sunday, yet even that has lost some of its meaning. "That's his trademark," Graeme McDowell said. "Really, I think that's all it is right now. What it means to him is obviously a different thing. What it means to the rest of us … it's not really something to be intimidated by anymore." McDowell, who won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach last summer, still considers Woods to be a special player. But after more than a year of finishing in the middle of the pack, or finishing the final round before the leaders even tee off, or not even playing because of recurring injuries to his left leg, Woods is more like just another player in the field. No. 1 in the world a year ago, he's now No. 30. "Mystique is not something that's measurable," McDowell said. "It's when you stand on the tee box with him and you get the feeling you're in the presence of greatness. When someone shows themselves as flawed and human … what Tiger was doing for years and years was superhuman. He was imposing himself on players just by being there. Until he starts winning again, he's not going to get that back." Some things haven't changed. Woods still draws the biggest crowds, tournaments sell more tickets and golf is more interesting when he plays. Among his peers, he has always been popular because of the way he plays golf and because the TV interest he created made them all rich. They love having him as a teammate at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He is one of the guys that week. But do they really know him? Did they ever? Mark O'Meara was his best friend, more like a big brother, for many years until O'Meara remarried and moved to Houston. They talk sporadically and see each other even less. Woods remains close to Notah Begay, who rarely plays on tour these days. He plays practice rounds with Arjun Atwal, another member at Isleworth Country Club, outside Orlando. Stewart Cink was among his biggest supporters when Woods first was exposed for cheating on his wife after Thanksgiving 2009. They have been playing golf since they were juniors and joined the PGA Tour about the same time. "I don't feel like I know him as well as I used to," Cink said. "I never knew him that well, but now I feel like I hardly know him at all." Woods made his return to golf last week, and even while finishing 18 shots behind, he became a focal point Sunday evening. His ex-caddie Steve Williams, angry at the timing and the way Woods fired him last month, celebrated an eighth win at Firestone, this time with new boss Adam Scott. Williams called it "the best win I've ever had." It was a direct shot at Woods, with whom Williams won 13 majors among 72 wins worldwide. Williams has pledged to write a book, although he has a non-disclosure agreement, as does most everyone who goes to work for Woods. Nick Faldo, a six-time major champion who now works for CBS Sports, said winning used to be a "foregone conclusion" for Woods. At the moment, nothing is certain. "Tiger has definitely lost his aura right now," Faldo said.