DUBLIN, Ohio — Jack Nicklaus only has to look at some of the clashes on the PGA Tour in recent months to see how far golf has come since he was in his prime.
That’s not necessarily a good thing.
“We were trying to figure out how to get somebody to write about anything when we played,” Nicklaus said Wednesday on the eve of the Memorial. “I think today you have to figure out how you keep somebody from writing about anything. It’s a big difference.”
Vijay Singh is suing the PGA Tour over its anti-doping policy. A small group of players has retained a lawyer over the new rule involving long putters. And the dispute getting all the attention is Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia, who didn’t hide their dislike for each other until it reached a point last week that Garcia made a comment with racial overtures about Woods.
“The Sergio-Tiger thing, I mean, it’s stupid,” Nicklaus said. “Do guys have an issue one with another? They usually resolve it themselves. You guys want to resolve it in the newspapers today. Nobody needs that. And I think they both finally said, ‘It’s enough. Forget it, guys. Let’s move on.’ In our days, I suppose there were times when you had an issue with somebody and it came about. You never read about it.”
The Woods-Garcia spat turned ugly last week when Garcia was jokingly asked at a European Tour dinner outside London if he would have Woods over for dinner during the U.S. Open. Trying to go along with the sarcasm, the Spaniard said he would serve fried chicken.
Garcia apologized that night in a statement and the next day in a news conference, though he said he had been unable to reach Woods over the phone. Woods was asked Wednesday if he considered getting in touch with Garcia to hear the apology so he wouldn’t have to deal with it during a busy, important week at the U.S. Open.
What followed were his first public comments, though they were sparse.
“Was I supposed to go to Wentworth?” Woods said jokingly.
Asked if he would allow Garcia to reach him on the phone to be done with the matter before getting to Merion, Woods said, “That’s already done with.”
Did that mean Garcia apologized to him?
“Not in person, no,” he said. When asked if Woods considered Garcia’s news conference an apology, Woods said, “Move on.”
On one matter there is no dispute — Woods is playing some pretty good golf. When all the discord was mentioned, followed by the question of whether it was healthy for golf, Woods replied, “Well, I’ve won four times.”
No one else has more than one win this year, which explains why Woods has opened another large lead at No. 1 in the world ranking, and why he is the favorite going into the next major championship. The first stop is Muirfield Village, were Woods is a five-time winner.
A year ago, Woods completed a Sunday rally with a chip from behind the 16th green that even Nicklaus, the tournament host, called one of the best shots he ever saw under the circumstances. The flop shot behind the green had to be executed to perfection — anything too soft would turn away to the left down a ridge and leave some 30 feet for par, while anything too firm might run beyond the hole and off the green into the water.
Woods holed it for a birdie.
The Memorial has the top six players in the world ranking and the strongest field in golf among regular tour events. Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood and Brandt Snedeker are all playing. Given his history — and this golf course — it only seems as though it’s Woods against everyone else.
What is it about the course Jack built and the guy who seems to own it?
“Most golf courses set up well for Tiger Woods,” McIlroy said. “He’s won The Players this year, and that was a golf course that everyone said didn’t quite suit him. … The guy is good wherever he goes and plays. It’s not like he goes to the same course and wins. He can win anywhere.”
Still to be determined is whether he can win at Merion.
Woods made a detour to the course outside Philadelphia for his first look at Merion, which last hosted the U.S. Open in 1981. Scott spent two days at Merion early last week, while McIlroy is on his way to the U.S. Open venue after Merion.
Nicklaus, who played Merion twice for a U.S. Open and lost in a playoff in 1971 to Lee Trevino, said he would be surprised if a player only hit driver once or twice and won. While the middle portion of the course is short even by yesteryear’s standards, the opening and closing stretches are long and tough.
Woods played in cool temperatures, rain and a strong wind. It was plenty long when he played, though he doesn’t think it will be that way in two weeks. What got his attention were some of the winners, notably Trevino and Ben Hogan.
“If you look at the list of champions, they have all been really good shot-makers,” Woods said. “They have all been able to shape the golf ball. … They are very disciplined players. You play to certain spots. You play to certain spots on the greens. You leave yourself certain putts and you deal with it and you move on.”
This is the first time Woods has won four PGA Tour events before the Memorial, though he won four times (in consecutive tournaments) worldwide in 2008 as his left knee was caving in. All that’s missing is a major – Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open — but it doesn’t hurt to keep piling up wins.
“I’ve been saying it a lot the last two or three years. What’s the matter with Tiger? Nothing is the matter,” Davis Love III said.