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Woods Talks about Sergio & Merion
On Wednesday, Tiger Woods didn't dwell much on a question about Sergio Garcia during a news conference on the eve of the Memorial Tournament. When asked whether he would be talking with Garcia during the U.S. Open in two weeks, Woods said succinctly, "That's already done with . . . It's done; time to move on."
A similar question had been posed to Garcia on Sunday after the final round of the BMW PGA Championship in England. The 33-year-old Spaniard, who isn't playing this week at the Memorial, said then, "(His representatives) talked to his manager. We asked him if he wanted us to call Tiger, obviously if he gives us the number or wait for Merion and do it there face-to-face, and they said they would rather do it there. So, you know, there's nothing else we can do, so we'll wait until we get there and we'll talk."
The "talk" Garcia referenced stemmed from an off-hand, and racially sensitive, remark he made during a players dinner the Tuesday before the BMW PGA. When asked about getting together with Woods at the U.S. Open, Garcia said, "We'll have him 'round every night. We will serve fried chicken."
He apologized that night and the following morning during a meeting with PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem and European Tour CEO George O'Grady, who were both in attendance at the players' dinner and heard Garcia's remarks.
Ever since then, Garcia's been backpedaling on his comment, and blamed some of the stress associated with it on his relatively poor play at the Wentworth Club, where he finished tied for 19th, five strokes out of a sudden-death playoff, won by Italy's Matteo Manassero.
"Yeah, well, wasn't really on my best game today, but you know, I guess it's been a long week, very - how do you say, a lot of emotions going on, and today I find of felt it a little bit," Garcia said on Sunday. "But you know I tried with what I had." On Wednesday, Woods said he's been dealing with racist remarks since he joined the PGA Tour in 1996. Indeed, right after Woods won the 1997 Masters by a whopping 12 shots, former Masters winner Fuzzy Zoeller was asked what Woods would be serving at the following year's traditional Champions Dinner.
"So you know what you guys do when he gets in here?" Zoeller told reporters. "Pat him on the back, say congratulations, enjoy it. And tell him not to serve fried chicken next year - or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve." Zoeller received a lot of heat and lost some endorsements, but he was not sanctioned by the PGA Tour. Nor was Garcia this year.
"Well, I live it," Woods said Wednesday of being such a recognizable black athlete. "It's happened my entire life, and it's happened my entire career. So that doesn't surprise me. It exists all around the world, not just in the sport of golf. It exists everywhere. I know that a lot of people are trying to make a difference and trying to make it more fair for all of us."
Memorial's host Jack Nicklaus was candid when asked about Garcia's comment, as well as the antagonistic Tiger-Sergio relationship. "The Sergio-Tiger thing, I mean it's stupid," Nicklaus said when asked a question about golfers with differing viewpoints getting along. "I mean . . . do guys have an issue with one 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. Let's move on."
Nicklaus said in his day fellow players were just hoping the scribes covering golf would write about them. It's not the same these days. "Today you have to figure out how to keep somebody from writing about anything. It's a big difference . . . Today you're in a fishbowl . . . And there are a lot of mountains made out of molehills. It's a different day."
Woods has won three of his past four starts - and four overall - this season, including the Players Championship, where he was paired with Garcia in the second round. Never close friends to begin with, Garcia and Woods came to loggerheads during the second round of the Players Championship on May 10, when - in Garcia's mid-swing as he was on the other side of the fairway - Woods pulled a 5-wood from his bag that elicited a loud cheer from the gallery surrounding him that Garcia said caused him to miss the green and led to a bogey on the par-5.
That purported slight drew the attention of the media to Garcia, whose "fried chicken" remark only made the spotlight on him brighter.
Woods is going for his fifth overall victory at the Memorial, where he'll be the defending champion. He'll be paired in the first round with Keegan Bradley and Fred Couples. The $6.2 million PGA Tour event starts Thursday at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.
Tiger Plays Merion for First Time
Woods played Merion Golf Club, the site of the U.S. Open in two weeks, for the first time on Monday. Although at just under 7,000 yards, Merion's East Course isn't long, Woods was impressed with the Pennsylvania venue, which was designed by Hugh Wilson and opened in 1912.
Merion will be holding its sixth U.S. Open and first since 1981 (won by Australia's David Graham). "From what everyone had said, I did not have an inkling that it was going to be as long as it was," Woods said Wednesday. "It was raining sideways, and it was just an ugly day. We played it probably as long as it will ever be played.
"In June, obviously, the weather won't be like that. It will be hotter. The ball will be flying. The clubs will be different, but the lines will be the same. It was nice to see and get an understanding of what I need to visualize and my prep next week and get ready for that. Have a nice understanding of where my sightlines are going to be and where I need to land the ball. Obviously, it will be different clubs. Won't be quite as long as it was playing (Monday)."
Adding to the course's difficulty are its small greens and the typically high U.S. Open rough, from which it's exceedingly difficult to advance the ball. "They've already got U.S. Open rough out there," Joe LaCava, Woods' caddie, told reporters. "It's going to be a really good test."
Woods would like nothing more than to get his 15th major title - and first since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines - at historic Merion. "If you look at the list of champions, they are very disciplined players," he noted. "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. You have to be able to put the ball in the correct spots and be disciplined."