Ardmore, Pa. — Tiger Woods spoke to a standing-room only press contingent on Tuesday and kept his comments understandably measured when it came to the hot topic heading into Merion: potential dinner plans with Sergio Garcia.
Woods had a brief exchange with Garcia at the practice range on Monday that was caught by the Golf Channel cameras and he was asked if they discussed Garcia's recent "fried chicken" comments.
"No, we didn't discuss anything," Woods curtly offered. "[Sergio] just came up and said hi, and that was it."
When Woods was asked if Garcia had apologized in person, he gave a short, "No," before stating, "It's already done. We've already gone through it all. It's time for the U.S. Open and we tee it up in two days."
Woods was clearly expecting the questions about Garcia, but he made it just as clear he had no intention of giving any depth into how he feels about the situation.
Frankly, he shouldn’t have to, and with the U.S. Open two days away, there are far more pressing issues at hand. And yet, here we are, talking about Woods and Garcia. There is no denying how big a story this has been, and will continue to be all week. Maybe not for the players, but certainly for those covering the championship.
The press room for Garcia's press conference was just as packed as Tiger's. To his credit, Garcia knew why most of us were there, and he opened the session with a statement reiterating his apology:
I want to apologize for what happened a couple weeks ago. But hopefully, like Tiger said, he's considering the matter closed and hopefully we can all move forward and kind of start competing respectfully, and hopefully we can all have a great tournament.
By my count, in a 20-minute media session, Garcia faced at least eight specific questions about Woods, including what happened during his exchange on the practice tee, why the two haven't talked in person yet, what his own mental state is like heading into the tournament and what he said in the hand-written note he left in Tiger's locker.
"Well, I don't think that's for me to say," Garcia replied to a question about the note. "I think that if he wants to show you ‑‑ I mean the note is for him, so if he wants to show you, then he can. I don't have any problems with that. But I am not going to be the one showing you. Sorry."
Sorry. Garcia has said that as many times as possible and still the questions come one after another.
Let's be clear, Garcia deserves all the questions and if he's feeling extra pressure heading into the U.S. Open he only brought that upon himself. He admitted that he wishes he could take the comments back, and if there's a way for him to grow from this experience, it seems Garcia may have been humbled into doing so.
From an interview with the USGA, emailed to the media:
Q. Do you have an understanding that the comments that you made regarding Tiger Woods extend beyond Tiger Woods, that they have a stinging feeling to people who look like me and other people who don't look like me that like you and support you and want you to do well out here? I mean it's not just about you and Tiger, this goes beyond, way beyond that. Can you comment about that?
SERGIO GARCIA: I understand that. That's obviously ‑‑ that's why I said sorry, because I can obviously see that I hurt a lot of people. And that doesn't make me feel good. I can tell you that.
I wish I could go back in time and take back what I said, but unfortunately, I said it. You know, the only thing I can do is show you my respect from here moving forward. I tried to be as respectful as possible competing and hopefully my ‑‑ at what I do will show you how much I care about everybody. So only time will tell us I guess.
It's a strange situation for everyone here, because heading into the tournament, the feud between Garcia and Woods is one of the biggest story in not just golf, but also all of sports.
And both players just want it to die.
If they hate each other, they'd rather go back to hating each other in private, not in the media room or on the practice tee.
I know I'm just as much to blame as anyone, writing about this story instead of, well, anything else going on at Merion on Tuesday. There are other smaller distractions, like the sopping wet conditions and Phil Mickelson's decision to stay in California to go to his daughter's graduation instead of practicing on site, but the Woods-Garcia story is bigger than all of that, because of who they are and because of what was said.
It will be interesting to see how Garcia is received on the course when play starts on Thursday. He was asked about his relationship with the crowds and he seems to feel everything is copacetic between golfer and gallery:
I feel like I had a great relationship with the crowds for pretty much my whole career. Obviously a couple incidents here and there, but other than that, I feel very fortunate. I feel like they love me. I love them too. I respect them very much. Obviously you can't please everyone, but I couldn't be unhappy about the way I feel about the crowds."
The crowds shouldn't be Sergio's concern this week, outside of a few rowdy Philadelphians with the occasional pithy comment from the grandstands. The issue for Sergio, frankly, is us. The media won't let this story die because it's too juicy to let die. Sergio is going to have to continue to answer questions all week. Woods…not so much.
Woods gave the media very little to use on Tuesday, so little that many reporters exiting the press tent were angry about it. Worthy of note, they were British, which given the tabloid nature of much of their coverage, makes sense. After all, Woods gave them a quote no juicier than, "No, we haven't had time for that."
Could the foreign press turn on Woods in this saga because he's not a good quote, thereby making the forthright and contrite Garcia seem like a sympathetic figure by comparison?
Surely, Garcia doesn't deserve sympathy. That shouldn't get lost in this. But damn the guy can be a good quote, and for some in this press tent, that's all that matters.
For the rest of us, this story is a necessary evil of covering the event. It is the big story, and the big stories are what get the most attention, even if those involved don't want it that way.
So…if the golfing gods are listening, there are a lot of people who would love for Garcia and Woods to card the same score after two rounds so they end up playing together on Saturday.
Better yet, the final group on Sunday would be a nice way to remember a story both players would surely like to forget.
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