- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

AUGUSTA, Ga. The man with golf's most colorful game is the master of the colorless quote.

Defending champion Tiger Woods rolled into the Masters interview room yesterday and proceeded to spend an hour ducking questions and trafficking in equivocation.

Which hole at Augusta National is his favorite? He couldn't say. What's the state of his game, considering his poor Sunday performance (74) at the Players Championship in his last competitive round? It's close. He was just a little bit off at TPC.

Given that at this time last year he was en route to winning an unprecedented fourth consecutive major, while this year he enters the Masters looking to end a three-tournament drought in the Grand Slams, does he feel like maybe the other players in the world have closed the gap on him a bit?

"They might have or they might have not, I really don't know," said the six-time major champion, practically oozing ambiguity.

Can he share any information about his new relationship with Swedish model Elin Nordegren, given that he is probably the most eligible bachelor in the world and Jesper Parnevik has recently been so bold as to suggest Woods is in love with the Parneviks' former nanny?

"I'm happy."

Anything else?

"No."

Thanks for the insight, Tiger.

In fact, the most telling thing about Woods' entire news conference was his answer when asked whether he would consider donning the outrageous threads worn by Parnevik and Charles Howell III, who share the same designer and affinity for pastel colors and cigarette pants.

"That's just not part of my persona," Woods responded.

He could have said, "That's just not my style," but he chose to use the word "persona." Why?

Because, it seems, Woods is more concerned with reinforcing his image than sharing any real insight into his personality. The world only knows Woods the golf prodigy, the shill for Buick and the Swoosh, the fist-pumping, two-dimensional poster.

Perhaps no one has been able to relate to Woods the player. His 350-yard drives, platinum putting stroke, extraordinary creativity and unparalleled resolve are alien to any golfer from the weekend chop to the secondary Tour star.

But it's becoming increasingly more difficult to relate to Woods the person Woods the man. His private life, his off-course personality, his sense of humor, his hopes, fears and faults are all as carefully guarded as Augusta National's 12th green. All we are left with is Woods the player, and Woods the image the persona.

On the one hand, it's easy to understand the tedium Woods faces every week, answering the same mostly mundane questions time and again for the insatiable media monster. But for the last 50 years, golf's goliaths (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman) always have been far more extroverted and accessible than Woods. You have to go back to Ben Hogan to find a more private standard-bearer for the game.

That point is driven home doubly hard when Woods follows John Daly to the dais, as he did yesterday. The world always has loved Daly, not just in spite of his faults but sometimes, it seems, because of them. No player on the Tour has been as open with media and fans about his shortcomings, his alcoholism, weight problem, divorces, etc. Basically, Daly is beloved because he is so human, so personally accessible.

"I think the fans love me because they can relate," said the 35-year-old Daly, who is staying in his mobile home with his father this week. "They are familiar with my problems, my screw-ups, and many of them have had the same struggles with life. I'm a blue-collar Joe, not a country club type, and I think the average guy can relate to that."

Unlike Woods, who never offers any extraneous personal information, Daly often undresses emotionally for the world. Yesterday, Daly was not only candid about his game, admitting that he was putting poorly "at the last place on the planet you want that problem," he also discussed his bout with depression two years ago when he fell to No.506 in the world rankings. Asked which medications he had to wean himself off of, the two-time major champion responded:

"Name it and they had me on it. I felt like a rat. It was killing me. I bloated to like 260 pounds and had no energy."

Woods is never likely to compete with Daly on the off-course entertainment meter few players could. But occasionally he does show you brief glimpses of his wit and incredibly agile mind that leave you begging for just a little more. When one reporter laughingly referred to the 26-year-old Woods as a "seasoned veteran," Woods immediately responded:

"Seasoned? Am I seasoned? I'm not grizzled yet, though, right?"

Such an exchange is all you need to see to understand just how sharp Woods is and how personable he can be. This week at the 66th Masters, as Woods continues his career quest to overtake the legendary Nicklaus, golf fans already have been awed by his game and fallen in love with Woods the player. But the world is also ready to embrace Woods the person, if only he would let us.

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