Faldo stokes ire of the Tiger

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The Independent Online

Even Don King might now look upon the Royal and Ancient with the deepest admiration after Tiger Woods yesterday raised his showdown with Nick Faldo here tomorrow to a frenzy of hype rarely witnessed on the fairways.

With a veritable war of words already waged between the pair these past two days, Royal Liverpool has already enjoyed "The Jaw-ache at Hoylake" and, who knows, out on the course they may yet have "No Mercy on The Mersey". It certainly seemed like it after the world No 1 responded to Faldo's anger at the R&A's rather explosive draw with some bombshells of his very own.

On Monday, Faldo had said "he could really do without" partnering Woods in the first two days after all the animosity that has built up following his criticism of the 10-times major winner live on American television last year, but at the same time maintaining - "I'm entitled to my opinion".

Woods has blanked the 49-year-old ever since and an exchange with journalists in the media centre yesterday, where his body language was on the tetchy side of surly, confirmed that he is up to extending the snub well past Friday night.

"What's your current relationship with Faldo?" Woods was asked.

"We don't talk much," he replied.

"Will you be talking on Thursday?"

"I've only played with him twice since I was a pro and we didn't talk much then either."

"So does that mean you'll shake hands on the first tee and the 18th green and that'll be it?"

"I don't know. It's up to him. I'll be in my own world trying to win the Open."

"So if Nick wants to talk, what will be your reaction?" "Surprised," said Woods.

Not content to let this snarling dog lie, Faldo later decided to call Woods' bluff.

"Will he really be surprised?" said the Englishman. "If that's the case, I will shock him - and babble away all day."

If he dared do so, it would doubtless fall upon deaf and furious ears as Woods plainly despises the finest golfer Britain has ever produced.

There is even a suggestion that Woods has been told about an interview put out by Radio Five Live on Monday night in which Faldo claimed that at his peak in 1990 he would have been more than a match for Woods. As if this ever-expanded fire needed any more paraffin chucked on it, Faldo appears to have backed up with a full tanker. Ding, ding for round one, as they say.

That Woods will come out fighting does not really need saying. Both personally and professionally, there has not been a more competitive and prouder force in sporting history.

Inevitably, he was quizzed long and hard yesterday about his father's death, about the effect it has had on him, whether his first missed cut in a major as a professional at last month's US Open was down simply to that, and whether he truly believes he will ever get over it.

But although Woods was as compliant as ever in opening up, it was all rather like watching Tony Soprano on that psychiatrist's couch. Nice sentiment, nice words, nice guy - but you just know when it is time for business, again the monster shall return.

"You know, we all have things that go on in life," he said, eventually tiring of the treacly line of questioning. "I'm not the first one [who's lost a parent] and I certainly won't be the last. Everybody goes through moments like this. You've got to handle it and move on."

Woods knows only one way to do that and his preparations here have signified that turning over the page will not be a problem; rustiness because of his grieving may be, but lack of focus definitely will not.

"I've come to terms with it, no doubt about it," he said. "He's not here anymore. It's not like I can pick up the phone and say, 'Pop, what do you think of my putting stroke?' Those days are gone.

"Saying that, there's never a day goes by without thinking about him and I don't think there ever will be. I feel our relationship transcended a normal parent-child relationship. But everyone I've talked to who has lost a parent think about them every day and will always miss them."

Everybody else, of course, does not have to bear their soul when they return to work, an intrusion that Woods copes with commendably even when his attempts to put a brave face on things are later flung back at him.

Here he was questioned how he could possibly have declared "I'm ready to compete" at Winged Foot last month and then perform so dreadfully. "Look I was ready to compete and I was ready to play - I just didn't get in the competitive flow fast enough," he said. "By the time I did get into the flow, I was always behind the eight ball. Taking that much time off [nine weeks] and coming back to the hardest venue we play the US Open on made it really difficult. If I had gotten into a flow a little earlier it might have been so different."

His demeanour - he has had three practice rounds at Royal Liverpool so far - suggest he is certain it will be so different this time. Woods dislikes, nay "hates", the fact that Mickelson has won two of the last three majors and that has only added to his drive to be ready in time.

"I came over earlier than I normally would because no one had seen this course," he said, alluding to his telling sacrifice of his annual trip to Ireland.

"So I wanted to get here to look at it, work it out, face up to Hoylake's questions."

Woods' answer, or at least the predominant part of it, appears to be in the shape of a two-iron, a club that he has not employed for about a year.

"My five-wood was just not rolling," Woods explained. "I'm trying to take advantage of the fast fairways and roll the ball out there. I used it most of today off the tee."

Woods having to use nothing but irons is an ominous thought for his rivals, especially as he enthused about the "shot-making and creativity this place requires that we don't do every often".

In simple terms, yesterday screamed out that Tiger is back. He's back and he's bad. Faldo is about to discover just how bad.

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