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Woods' media games hurting not helping him

ESPN staff
May 2, 2012
Tiger Woods has swerved the media this week - even more than usual © Getty Images
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"It's just a matter of doing the reps."

"All I'm thinking about is getting that W."

"It is what it is."

It almost does not matter where Tiger Woods makes his pre-tournament remarks, the comments are always exactly the same. At this stage of his career at least, his swing is always "a work in progress", his game is always "real close", and everything he does is "a process".

Woods has become the slot machine of interviewees; just pull the lever and see which cliche spills out.

It's a frustrating and uninspiring process but, nevertheless, he remains Tiger Woods. What he says matters - to readers, to the media, to the tournament sponsors - to the same degree his shots on the golf course do. Just as his performances push TV ratings more than any other player, his comments - no matter how lacking in insight - matter more than any of his contemporaries.

So while the various credentialed members of the media probably actually gained 40 minutes of their lives by Woods' decision this week not to speak to them, but rather do his Q&A ahead of the Wells Fargo Invitational on his official website via questions submitted through Twitter and Facebook; there was still something of a furore.

Was Woods snubbing the mainstream media? Was he letting down his sponsors by swerving standard process, answering softball questions like, "What ratio of long game to short game practice do you do?" rather than the probing queries of the hacks that consistently inspire the obligatory "It is what it is" retort of impenetrability?

The truth, perhaps, is somewhere in between. Woods holds a privileged position by virtue of the things he has achieved. For years, he has had an agreement with the PGA Tour allowing him to limit his media responsibilities depending on certain criteria, while in recent times he has attempted to increase his use of social media and interact reasonably directly with fans. His latest move seems to be a natural convergence of both those elements.

The media, while obviously frustrated at yet another reminder that sportswriters live in the age of lost access, has attempted to argue that Woods is hurting the Tour and sponsors by speaking directly to fans. But that is slightly disingenuous. The idea of pre-tournament press conferences is to give writers material for good stories, raising awareness for the forthcoming tournament (and its title sponsor) and hopefully attracting greater numbers of ticket buyers and television viewers.

In that regard, Woods' move hasn't harmed anyone. His 'interview' - and the rather introspective media debate it has inspired - has still created column inches for the tournament and its supporters, albeit in a slightly different way. Yet the end result is the same.

The real disappointment, however, is that Woods feels his best approach is to avoid the media firing squad altogether. He has previously been a man capable of both humour and insight, yet in his group meetings with those who are tasked with writing about him to a wider audience, he is now incapable of demonstrating anything but the smallest kernels of either.

He hides behind cliches and vague assertions at every turn. Perhaps this is the fault of the questioners, who lack the skill to extract a worthwhile answer from their subject. But this is not the Spanish Inquisition - an answer that even approaches the neighbourhood of insightful will be lapped up.

The media, like golf as a whole, still dances to Tiger's tune. It is his fault it's currently such a dull one.

Witness the way Darren Clarke's victory at the Open Championship last season was greeted with runaway enthusiasm by the domestic media, with so little attempt made to rationalise or downplay the surprise nature of the triumph. Putting aside his own personal circumstances, that is because Clarke has been - for better or worse - unfailingly open with the media about his golf.

Tiger Woods' performance on the course remains the most important thing © Getty Images
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Like Harry Redknapp in football, his reputation is enhanced by the mere fact he plays the media game.

Woods, despite boasting a Stanford education owing as much to his golfing prowess as his intellectual promise, is also well capable of putting on the charm if required.

The utterly confusing thing, at this point, is why he chooses not to.

Woods' handling of the media, especially in light of his personal revelations, increasingly suggests he is simply not an amiable man anymore. Whether it is a matter of being burned too many times by the media, or because fame has driven him from any sort of normal sense of perspective, Woods no longer seems capable of presenting himself as a normal, well-adjusted person.

Yet it is something that could affect his legacy. John from Ontario might be delighted that Tiger Woods answered his question in that one video post one time, but the wider public will not be so amazed. For them, it's the words around Woods' quotes that shape their opinion of him as much as anything he says.

Engaging with fans directly is not to be sniffed at - especially as it is something Woods has often been accused (generally unfairly) of neglecting in the past. But it should not be at the expense of engaging with the media.

It's there where his legacy will be constructed - and he can be the one providing the raw materials. Wins - sorry, Ws - tell a story, but they don't tell the tale.

That just is what it is.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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