Tiger Woods smiles as he responds to a question during a news conference… (Jeff Siner / MCT )
AUGUSTA, Ga. — If you write about golf, the two biggest days at a major tournament are Tiger Tuesday and Whomever Sunday.
This is Masters week, a cherished time in the sport.
Tuesday was Tiger Tuesday, when he met the media to keynote his current state. It was a time not so much to be cherished as dissected.
To be clear, there are other stories here, many worth expanding on.
Young Rory McIlroy returns to a place where, a year ago, he imploded on Sunday, turning a four-shot lead into an 80 and a 15th-place finish. Tuesday, he talked candidly about what happened, how he used it to win the U.S. Open two months later and how he has grown from that experience. He might just as easily have been on a couch, with Sigmund Freud sitting in a chair next to him.
South African Charl Schwartzel birdied the last four holes last year, incredibly, to win. Many longtime members of Augusta National here haven't birdied a total of four holes.
Luke Donald is No. 1 in the world rankings and Phil Mickelson has won this tournament three times. Donald is steady and bland, Mickelson crazy risky and a friendly fan favorite.
But it remains Tiger Woods who moves the needle in golf. We know this because of TV ratings, measurable Internet interest and top editors who hear about Tiger at cocktail parties. It is the age-old water-cooler measurement. A handful of sports stars dominate the office chatter, and Woods is high on that list.
As a matter of fact, since Woods' rampant infidelity was revealed a couple of years ago, the fascination has only increased. Any story about him brings a barrage of reaction by those furious that he has been written about again, each response showing clearly they have read every word.
For golf writers, there is still no mistaking it. This is Tiger's world and we just live in it.
As on each Tiger Tuesday, this one had its own special flavor.
Two weeks ago, he finally had won again on the PGA Tour, ending a 30-month slump. His fans concluded he was back. His detractors hoped it was an aberration.
This Tuesday Tiger projected warmer and fuzzier. He was Tiger, the booster of fellow players, Tiger the storyteller, Tiger the big brother.
"This is my 18th year, so I've spent about half my life playing this tournament.… I've gotten umpteen advice from guys who have played here way more than I have. That's really helped … over the years of playing with Raymond [Floyd] and Freddie [Couples] and Ollie [Jose Maria Olazabal] and Nick Price, you name it, right on down the list, of just understanding how to play this course."
On playing Augusta National's par fives: "Zach [Johnson, 2007 winner] proved you don't have to always go for them [the greens in two].… The perfect example of that is what Zach did."
On changes to the greens on Nos. 8 and 16, he deferred to Mickelson: "They are subtle. As Phil says, they are significant on these greens because a subtle change is pretty significant at this speed."
"I played with Jack [Nicklaus] and Arnold [Palmer] on Wednesday, in '95. I was an amateur. Arnold comes up to me and says, 'How about a little skins game today?' I said, 'I don't have any cash.' "
Woods said Palmer told him it was OK, they played, had a great time, and then Palmer sank a putt on No. 18 to win all the skins. He said that "ticked off' Nicklaus a bit, so he took them all over to play the par-three course here. Again, they had great fun, until they got to No. 9.
"That was probably the most nervous I've ever been," Woods said. "You think it's a simple nine-iron shot, no big deal. Then Arnold almost holed it, Jack almost holed it and now it's my turn. I was just trying to go to dry land, and somehow I was able to hit it on dry land and was pretty stoked about it."
The Big Brother
Asked about McIlroy, Woods said, "The first time I got a chance to really sit down and talk with him was this year at Abu Dhabi. We played nine holes, and then ended up being paired together. That was fun for both of us."
On McIlroy's collapse at last year's Masters and recovery to win the U.S. Open, Woods said, "He learned from it, applied it and ran away with it. That was some pretty impressive playing at the U.S. Open."
Asked whether he was at the stage now in which he helps other players, he said, "Yes, I do. Today, I played with Sean [O'Hair] and we were talking about the golf course and what flag you fire at and where you want to miss it to this flag, where do you hit over the green.… We're playing tomorrow. He wants advice on the other nine. I obviously had something good to say, I guess.
"As a champion, and being here a number of years, you pass knowledge on."
Certainly, this version of a warmer, fuzzier Woods was influenced by where he was being warmer and fuzzier. At the Masters, you do and say the correct things. It is written in the azaleas and embedded in the lore.
Woods has been a champion here four times. Since he won two weeks ago, the volume has turned way up on his chances of making that five. His fans are ecstatic. His haters are morose. Almost nobody is neutral.
If this Tiger has, indeed, got it all back in his tank, Whomever Sunday will turn out to be all about a guy in a red shirt. And Monday morning, the water coolers will empty quickly.