Talk is cheap on Tiger Tuesday
THE 126TH OPEN: With all eyes and ears on him, the American is giving little away as he prepares for tomorrow's opening round
Wednesday 16 July 1997
Among the brief soundbites was what is rapidly becoming his catchphrase. "My expectation is to win every tournament," the Masters champion said. "That's my goal, to win every tournament. It's the philosophy of my entire life."
It was the unqualified nature of the statement that belied the programmed performance. In hastening to downplay a possible rivalry with the only other Major winner under 30, Ernie Els, Wood demolished his earlier thesis. "It is so hard for two or three players to be at the top in every tournament they play together," he said.
Where Woods did open up, perhaps as he is away from home, was on the death threats and hate mail he has received. "They have been numerous but that is nothing unusual," he said. "When you are playing a sport in which you are not the majority but the minority, of course there is going to be some animosity. That's the way it goes. It was like that for Arthur Ashe and Jackie Robinson. Until we understand and respect everyone for the kind of person they are, not by looking at their pigmentation, that's going to be there."
His worst moment to date at a tournament came at the Phoenix Open in January. "The security completely broke down and I was absolutely mobbed," he said. Woods got knocked down and cut under the eye by a pen someone was holding out for an autograph. The response to the 21-year-old phenomenon has been slightly less hectic at Troon. "I have noticed people here have been very respectful. They understand you are here to play and not sign autographs and take pictures."
Although he cannot match Young Tom Morris, who was 17 when he won in 1867, Woods could become the youngest winner this century of the championship. "This is probably the biggest tournament to win. You get the best players in the world here, and you play on traditional courses. That's what it's all about."
For the challenge of playing in the wind, Woods spent last week altering his swing to make it shallower. "My swing plane is better and my ball flight has come down a little," he said. "I should be OK." As on Monday, Woods set off for a practice round at lunchtime, which suits his 1.05pm tee-off tomorrow, when he will play with Bernhard Langer and Steve Elkington.
But for the past two days, the wind has been such that the front nine has been into it, rather than downwind, which is the prevailing situation. The forecast is for it to switch tomorrow. If it does, Woods may go for the greens at the first three holes with his driver and capitalise on his enormous length. "I might try," he said. "But if the wind is against, I am not going to because it makes no sense." The game plan, unlike at Augusta or indeed in front of the media, will have to be adaptable this week. When he found the rough on the right of the first, a spectator growled: "You'll nae turn this place into a pitch and putt."
In a playful moment at the sixth, Woods tested the wind by hitting a wedge shot as high as he could. The ball landed at his feet. Woods played at St Andrews two years ago, and at Royal Lytham, where his 66 in the second round was his lowest score as an amateur in a pro tournament. Troon is proving a new experience, however.
"At the two other courses, I was able to see the golf course in front of me," he said. "Here there are a couple of blind shots. Mark O'Meara and Cookie [John Cook] played here last time, but they didn't really remember where to go. This is a course on which you have to know your lines and trust them."
The course, according to Greg Norman, is the "healthiest" for an Open the Australian has seen. "The greens and the fairways are in perfect shape," he said. Having already played the course twice while he has been in Scotland, Norman has spent the last two days fishing in the Highlands with his children. His countryman, Ian Baker-Finch, will make a decision this morning after a final practice round.
The 1991 champion, who has since gone into a long-term slump - at one point he went 16 months without making a cut - has been taking anti-inflammatories for a shoulder injury. Scotland's Dean Robertson is standing by as the first alternate.
Norman said: "Everybody who plays golf hates to see Ian going through this slump, and it is the same with Seve [Ballesteros]. But he wants to get out of it. He's got to climb that mountain all over again and he has the support of every player out here."
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