- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 19, 2006

HOYLAKE, England — Who would have thought the stuffy sportscoats at the R&A; would have a better sense of humor than Tiger Woods?

Golf’s gray-haired British protectorate has paired the World No. 1 with three-time champion Nick Faldo for the first two rounds of this week’s 135th British Open at Hoylake, a contentious coupling with the potential to produce some pre-weekend sparks.

Faldo, never one to mince words during a Hall of Fame career in which he once famously thanked the media from “the heart of my bottom,” has been equally candid as an ABC analyst opposite Paul Azinger over the last two years.

And at last year’s Buick Invitational, Faldo’s first event behind the microphone, he dared to critique golf’s king.

When Tiger badly blocked a 2-iron approach on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines, temporarily casting doubt on an event he eventually won, Faldo unloaded on Woods, beginning a several-minute dissection of Woods’ errant shot with an exasperated, “What was that?”

Faldo went on to break down Woods’ swing frame-by-frame, pointing out his flawed position at the top and at impact.

More than a few angry viewers phoned the network, but the ultimate feedback came from Woods himself, who let it be known that he wasn’t pleased with Faldo’s histrionics, particularly given the fact that Faldo knew he was still in the midst of his swing overhaul with Butch Harmon replacement, Hank Haney.

Apparently, the 17 intervening months have done little to soften Woods’ feelings toward the six-time major champion.

“We really don’t talk much,” Woods said with his best withering stare yesterday when asked about his pairing with Faldo. “I’ve only played with him two times since I’ve been a pro, and there wasn’t a lot of talking there, either.”

The response was vintage Tiger. Woods had the opportunity to put the issue to rest with a smile and a carefully chosen one-liner like, “I’ve been drawn with Saint Nick? Really? I shall have to remember to bring an apple and a note pad.”

Instead, he stoked the fire with his stone-faced response.

Faldo defended his comments at the Buick Invitational in an interview with GolfWorld Magazine last year:

“For a split second, I thought [Woods] might be embarrassed,” Faldo said a month after the incident. “I saw it and reacted, simple as that. Obviously, all the talk in recent months has been about Tiger’s swing. We’d gotten film on him in 2000, when he was awesome, and things are very different right now. It was so unlike Tiger.”

Yesterday, Faldo explained he considers the matter closed.

“I guess I’ll see on Thursday whether we are speaking or not,” said the 48-year-old Faldo. “What happened is all under the bridge, but with a few trout lying on the side.”

It’s also telling that Woods remembered exactly how many times he had played with Faldo. He posted a 70 to Faldo’s 75 in the opening round of the 1997 Masters. And he crushed the Brit 4-and-3 in the opening round of the 1999 World Match Play Championship at La Costa. Only a player with an remarkably long memory could possibly remember two among the hundreds of competitive rounds he’s played over the last decade.

Woods never forgets. And, it seems, he never forgives.

He also has excommunicated NBC’s Jimmy Roberts and CBS’ Peter Kostis for similar perceived slights, and he doesn’t get on with outspoken Johnny Miller, either. Why? Because all three dare to try to lend something to their coverage other than genuflecting drivel.

Now, Faldo certainly has never been one of golf’s more lovable fellows, not even in his current incarnation as a witty, wily member of Fourth Estate. But Tiger’s reaction is more disconcerting than Faldo’s commentary.

Nobody can question his skills as a player, but Woods certainly has a nasty history of holding grudges and a less than ingratiating habit of taking himself far too seriously. Aside from the aforementioned broadcasters, he also has tossed aside former caddie Mike “Fluff” Cowan and Harmon, both because they refused to carry themselves in the subservient silence demanded of Team Tiger.

The Faldo flap will likely have no bearing on Woods’ performance at Hoylake. Despite Phil Mickelson’s near Slam three-peat, Tiger is once again this week’s major favorite (5-1). But given Woods’ struggles with execution and focus at Winged Foot, where he missed his first cut as a professional at last month’s U.S. Open, one would like to think the 10-time major champion is well beyond the potential distraction of a has-been Brit.

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