TIGER-MANIA still exists. At least in Turkey, anyway. They were crammed like sardines into the Michelangelo Room in the luxurious Maxx Royal Hotel on theMediterranean coast for Tiger Woods’ pre-Turkish Airlines Open press conference, part of the world No 1’s obligation in return for a reported fee of £1.5 million.
It’s just as well for Woods that he wasn’t being paid by the word. As always, he had precious little to say and any difficult questions, such as the controversy surrounding Brandel Chamblee’s cheating insinuation or his decision to skip last week’s HSBC Champions event in China, were given short shrift by the winner of 14 majors.
On Chamblee, Woods had responded to remarks made by the golf analyst in a US magazine during a challenge match against Rory McIlroy in China at the beginning of last week. But what did he think of Chamblee, in a subsequent Golf Channel interview, admitting that he “went too far” with his comments, and had Woods received a personal apology? “I’ve said everything I’m going to say,” he replied to that question posed by The Scotsman. “I talked about it when I was in Hainan Island and that’s it.”
Iain Carter, Radio Five Live’s excellent golf reporter, got little back either when he raised the thorny subject of Woods, despite being in the Far East last week, sitting out the final WGC event of the season, a decision that infuriated Giles Morgan, HSBC’s head of global sponsorship.
“Independent contractor,” was the curt reply to that one, his way obviously of making it clear to everyone in the game that he’ll play wherever and whenever he wants – if the money is right, of course.
Yet, and if only it could happen more often, Woods let his mask slip, albeit briefly, when he reflected on the stunt he had taken part in the previous day to promote the first European Tour event to be staged in Turkey by hitting shots on Istanbul’s iconic Bosphorus Bridge, which links Europe with Asia. Traffic was stopped for 30 minutes as Woods smacked golf balls down three lanes of the six-lane suspension bridge – an image that appeared on the front page of most Turkish newspapers yesterday.
“Tell you what, I have never done anything like that before,” admitted Woods with a smile. “I’ve hit balls down the runways at airports before but never down a bridge. The scary part was, after I had been travelling for 12 hours, hopping off the plane and having to hit driver down the narrowest fairway you’ve ever seen.
“The wind was coming off the left a little bit and all these cars were driving on the right. There could have been an international incident right there.
“So that was a little bit nerve-wracking. Trust me, every ball I hit drew! Someone there was telling me that I hit one about 550 metres, so that was really cool.”
Woods heads into this event with five wins under his belt this year. That is the same number of times he has been the subject of a random drugs test, as he revealed in replying to being asked about Vijay Singh’s attorney, as part of the player’s lawsuit against the PGA Tour over the Fijian using deer antler spray, claiming the US circuit has made “exception after exception” in the administration of its anti-doping policy and disciplinary action against players.
“Until I know the facts, I really can’t give you an answer,” said Woods when pressed on whether he had any concerns about double-standards. “But I know we get regularly tested throughout the year. I think I’ve been tested five times this year and that’s usually the number for most guys.”
US Open champion Justin Rose, the winner of a match-play event in the same region last year that was the precursor for Turkey joining Bulgaria on the new list of European Tour destinations this season, concurred. “I would say four times would be the average, though this year has been a light year for me on the PGA Tour while I don’t think I’ve ever been tested on the European Tour,” he said.
Coming off a golf course after five hours and being dragged off to provide a specimen was, claimed the Englishman, often “frustrating and annoying” for the individual concerned. “But I guess golf’s now a pretty major sport and should fall in line,” he added. Rose, who topped the European Tour money-list in 2007, heads into the penultimate event on this season’s schedule lying third in the Race to Dubai behind Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell. Add in fourth-placed Ian Poulter and the battle for the crown involves players who all reside these days at Lake Nona in Florida.
“It’s incredible that four members of the same club are leading one of the top tours in the world,” said Rose, who acknowledged Stenson, winner of the FedEx Cup already this year, is going to be tough to catch but, at the same time, feels the pressure had been cranked up on the Swede.
“The likelihood is that it will all come down to next week in Dubai,” he added.