When Tiger Woods returned to golf from his back surgery, the national media saw it as the greatest news flash since D-Day. This energized me so much I immediately tracked down Tiger and asked if we could do the interview we should have done years ago. Surprisingly, Tiger agreed and suggested we grab a couple of orange Slurpees at the 7-Eleven and meet at a GameStop, where we could play Tomb Raider during breaks.
I insisted on picking the location and told Tiger I would rule out the fire hydrant but would still pick one of the places where he'd spent the past six years not winning another major.
My first choice was the greenside bunker on No. 6 at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Why? Because it was the hole where Tiger suffered the only bad break I ever saw him get in a major while he was in contention.
The lie in that bunker in the final round of the 2012 British Open was so impossible he might as well have tried to play out while lying on his belly and using a pool cue. He came away with a shocking triple-bogey 7 and tied for third place. To my mind, it was the highlight of his six-year slump.
But that seemed a long way to go for a chat, so we met at a diner, and the interview began. From here on, the voice in boldface type will be mine.
Why did you turn down previous interview requests with me?
Like Steiny said: We had nothing to gain.
So why now?
Steiny says we have to rebuild my brand.
Why? TV still loves you.The print press still loves you. The average fans still love you. Of course the average fans still love the Kardashians, too, but I feel sure America will find a cure for this someday.
I just do what Steiny says.
Why haven't you fired Steiny, by the way? You've fired everybody else. Three gurus, Butch, Hank and Sean Foley. Two caddies, Fluff and Stevie. Your first agent, Hughes Norton, who made you rich before you'd won anything. Other minions.
I'll probably get around to it.
I like to fire people. It gives me something to do when I'm not shaping my shots.
You must have fired Marko. Don't hear much about him these days.
Mark O'Meara. Your old buddy.
The name sounds familiar.
Marko was your best friend in golf at one time.
I'm sorry, I can't place him. Did he play the tour?
I've always wanted to ask, what's with these pet names you give people? Maybe it's a California thing, but Marko? Steiny? Stevie? Cookie? Chuckie? It's like everybody but you comes out of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
I don't know, Jenko. I'll have to ask Steiny about that.
You might not recall this, but in 2001 after you had won six majors, I predicted you'd win 24.
I was on a roll, man. Everybody predicted it.
You want to know the real reason I did? You had no competition. Aside from Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, the guys who finished second to you were people like Tom Kite, Sergio, Thomas Bjorn, Bob May, David Duval, Chris DiMarco, Colin Montgomerie, Woody Austin, Shaun Micheel and Rocco Mediate.
That's not a bad list.
Yeah, right. That's why I've been so busy keeping up with all their majors.
Hey, I've been second in six majors. That means I could have won 20 by now, doesn't it?
You've been second to Rich Beem, Michael Campbell, Trevor Immelman, Y.E. Yang, Zach Johnson and Angel Cabrera. You really want to bring that up?
Speaking of Sergio, I'm sure you read this quote he said about you: "He's not the nicest guy on tour. We don't enjoy each other's company. You don't have to be a rocket engineer to figure that out." Got a response?
Sergio wins Low Crybaby in every tournament. That's all I know.
Not sure you're aware of this, but back when you were at the top of your game I was also the guy who said only two things could stop you from winning more majors than Jack: injury or a bad marriage.
You wrote that?
In a moment of brilliance, yes.
You nailed it.
Thank you. After you'd won three U.S. Ams, your father said you were going to have a greater impact on the world than Gandhi. I laughed out loud. What was your reaction?
I looked for Gandy in the record book and couldn't find him. But I didn't go as far back as Middlecoff, Demaret and those guys.
You have a house as big as Luxembourg. What do you do in it all day?
Let me think. Uh, new video games come out. I putt on the carpets. A closet somewhere needs color-coordinating. And of course there's always somebody to fire.
You've been incredibly rich and obscenely rich. Which is better?
Does Elin get a vote?
You haven't talked about it, but after all of those New York Post front pages during the scandal, what's the moral of your story?
That's easy. Don't get caught.
You named your yacht Privacy. Because you're a worldwide celebrity, do you really expect and demand privacy?
I thought about renaming it Serenity, but that pretty much went out the door when the 9-iron hit the window of the Escalade.
Have you ever regretted firing Butch Harmon after winning your first eight majors with him?
Butchie was making me tip too many people.
I don't get it. For a guy who can certainly afford it, you've become famous for being a bad tipper. It's almost like you take pride in it.
I just don't understand why you're supposed to tip people for doing a job they're already getting paid to do.
In many cases tips are expected to be part of their salary.
So let 'em go find a better job.
Now why didn't I think of that? What would you do if you couldn't play golf any longer?
I guess I'd buy an NBA team.
I'll try to remember to tell the next person who waits on me to ditch the stupid restaurant and go buy the Knicks or Mavericks.
You're enjoying this, aren't you?
I'm starting to, yes. I have to confess, I'm borrowing that Albert Brooks line from "Broadcast News."
Is that the network Johnny Miller works for?
I'm almost positive it isn't. Where the TV guys are concerned, what are your thoughts on Brandel Chamblee? For instance, who would you rather run over in a car first, Brandel or me?
Who's Brandel Chamblee? How many majors has he won? How many has he even played?
Brandel is a good student of the Rules of Golf.
Hey, man! I've never knowingly broken a rule on the golf course! I don't need to be diagnosed by a guy like Brandel Chamblee.
You're not on TV. You're just a writer.
That's the highest compliment you could pay me. Let's move on. Are there any wedding bells in the future for Lindsey Vonn?
__I guess I have the answer.
What was your reaction to Rory McIlroy calling off his wedding to Caroline Wozniacki?__
He's better off. He won another two majors, didn't he?
I'm curious as to why you split with Hank after winning six majors with him?
I'm a perfectionist.
Now that you've gone through Butch, Hank and Foley, who's your next coach gonna be? Dr. Phil?
Funny. I just want to take my game to a higher level.
And how's that been working out for you?
I've had problems, sure.
The knee, the Achilles ...
... the fire hydrant ...
... the ankle, the shoulder...
... the divorce ...
... the wrist, the back ...
... the putter ...
... but I'm getting back to where I want to be. Like I said at the British Open. I'm stronger, faster and more explosive.
Like I tweeted, take away the two triples, the three doubles and the nine bogeys, and you'd have been right there.
I made a few mistakes.
A few? You finished four from the bottom, in 69th place. Other than a few missed cuts, including this year's PGA, it was by far your worst finish in a major as a pro.
But I took away a lot of positives from those experiences. I need to get stronger. It's why I decided not to touch a golf club for a couple months.
Looked to most of us like you didn't touch a club before the British Open or the PGA. It was curious. First, you tried to beg your way onto the Ryder Cup team. Then you begged yourself off. I guess it had nothing to do with your Ryder Cup record. Which happens to be 13-17-3.
Like I've said: Nobody remembers Jack's Ryder Cup record.
I do. 17-8-3.
Incidentally, where do you put Jack and Hogan on your list of the five best golfers of all time?
I don't. I rank me at Pebble Beach in 2000 first, me in the '97 Masters second, me at St. Andrews in 2000 third, me at Hoylake in 2006 fourth, and me at Bay Hill, Firestone, Memorial and Torrey fifth ... pick a year.
Do you still honestly believe you're going to beat Jack's record of 18 pro majors? You need five more, and your competition is younger and better, and you've lost the intimidation factor.
Why not? I've got time on my side.
You've got only six years.
I do? How do you figure that?
You'll be 39 in December. In six years you'll be 44. Let me drop a little golf history on you. Since 1892, when tournaments went to 72 holes, only four players have won a major after the age of 44. Those four are Julius Boros, who was 48, Jack, who was 46, and Hale Irwin and Jerry Barber, who were both 45.
There's always room for one more.
Here's another thing. Only three players have won a major at the age of 44: Lee Trevino, Roberto De Vicenzo and Harry Vardon. You're up against some long odds, my man.
You know what, Jenko? Despite all the jabs I've had to take from you today, this has been kind of fun. What are you doing for lunch tomorrow?