Woods tries to put interest in golf back on golf
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) Tiger Woods had a full set of teeth and was chomping at the bit to get his season started.
In Phoenix, of all places, where he hasn't been in 14 years.
That might be the best indication yet that the biggest news on the PGA Tour actually might occur on a golf course.
Consider the last week.
Even as Jimmy Walker was rolling to a nine-shot victory in the Sony Open, the big story out of Honolulu was what happened to Robert Allenby that caused the bloody scrape on his forehead and the deep bruise in his swollen eye after a night out on the town. Allenby stood by his story Tuesday that he was beaten and robbed, even though he said he has no recollection of the 2 1/2 hours from leaving a wine bar until he wound up in park with homeless people.
Two days later, Woods was photographed in Italy, where he went to support Lindsey Vonn as she captured a record 63rd World Cup race in skiing. This was Vonn's big day, and Woods said he was simply trying to blend in by wearing a skeleton-patterned mask across the lower part of his face. He might have pulled it off except when the mask came down one of the most famous athletes in the world was photographed with a missing tooth.
''It's a new world. We need to talk about something,'' Woods said of the attention it created. ''Have to fill up space.''
About the time he was getting his teeth fixed, Dustin Johnson filled up space in a Sports Illustrated story about his leave of absence from the PGA Tour for what he called personal challenges that required professional help. This was the same news group that reported in August that Johnson had failed a third drug test - one for marijuana and two for cocaine - and he was suspended for six months.
The PGA Tour denied the report that he was suspended. Johnson said he would not return until his first child was born. A son, Tatum, was born last week. Johnson will return next week in Torrey Pines, his first competition in six months. What a coincidence.
So with all this going on, perhaps it was only fitting that an innocuous comment from Allenby on Tuesday generated the most laughs.
''I'm hitting the ball well,'' he said.
Golf? We're supposed to be interested in golf?
Even Allenby had to stifle his laughter at the timing of the question and his answer. It was reminiscent of the year former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson stood his ground against Martha Burk and her campaign for a female member. The second question in his press conference during a rainy week in Georgia was, ''Is there any consideration to lift, clean and place for the tournament?''
Once the laughter from the absurdity of the question subsided, Johnson replied, ''Well, now we know why we are here.''
And that's where Woods comes in.
Not to let the boring details of golf get in the way, but he says he is ahead of schedule in each phase of his game with new swing consultant Chris Como. He is ''cranking up the speed'' on his swing and feels that driving is the best part of his game right now.
''I'm a lot longer than I thought I could ever be again,'' he said. ''I'm touching numbers that I did 15 years ago. So that's cool.''
Even so, nine of the 21 questions were about his teeth. That's to be expected. No one had seen or spoken to Woods since he was in Italy, and there were a fair number of skeptics that a videographer accidentally popped him in the mouth.
That should change on Thursday, when Woods tees it up for the first time since the Hero World Challenge in early December, and the first time in an official PGA Tour event since he missed the cut at the PGA Championship. Woods, who missed most of last year with back surgery and recovery, still moves the needle. And he has help at the TPC Scottsdale with the likes of Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler.
Phoenix is the most raucous event in golf outside of the Ryder Cup (and now that the U.S. Open has abandoned Bethpage Black). Add the biggest figure in golf to the mix and attendance records are in danger. Woods has played Phoenix only three times, all of them memorable. There was that hole-in-one on the 16th hole in 1997, the time he had fans move a waist-high boulder in the desert, and the fan who threw an orange on the green when he was putting.
The lack of security is what drove Woods away. He said he returned because the tournament has made it more secure.
He'll find out when he gets to the 16th hole on Thursday afternoon - and Saturday, presuming he makes the cut. The scene is so rowdy, and at times raunchy, that Phoenix isn't for everyone. Players have complained over the years that it has become an outdoor party where golf gets in the way.
Allenby is playing, too, though odds are the fans won't be paying attention to his golf. Allenby used to be able to go through 18 holes without much notice if he wasn't playing well. With speculation and rumors about what happened in Honolulu swirling around him, no telling what kind of reception he'll get when he steps into the arena on the 16th hole.
One caddie's suggestion: They should chant the theme song from ''Hawaii 5-0.''