LUTZ, Fla. - With a few days having passed since they both played key roles at the 74th Masters in which Tiger Woods also got his share of headlines, Fred Couples and Tom Watson offered their take on Woods' return to competition after nearly five months away.
Couples, who played with Woods in a practice round last Monday at Augusta National GC, said he had communicated with Woods since the Masters, where Woods was fourth and Couples was sixth.
"He's actually disappointed with how he hit the ball," Couples said on the eve of the Outback Steakhouse Pro-Am, where he is going for a Champions Tour record-tying fourth consecutive victory. "If he had hit the ball well and lost to Phil and finished behind Westwood, I think he would have been OK with that. I think it was a phenomenal finish, personally. But a fourth-place finish to him is probably not very good. I think he's hard on himself because of what he's been through. If he was just off for his knee or something, I don't think he would be [that hard on himself]. I think he's still feeling that what he did was a horrific thing and he's playing golf a little bit, and even that's not very easy for him. But it will be."
Asked what he thought of Woods' performance at the Masters, Watson said: "Tiger, he's a great player, that's what he is, a great player. Phil's victory was special and emotional, real feel-good. It certainly was a counterbalance to the rest of the week with all the Tiger mania that was going on."
Watson, who has been critical of Woods' on-course comportment, said he was dismayed to see the ancillary aspects of Tiger's return. "It's a shame to see Woods out on the [practice] putting green with I don't know how many security people around - 30, 40, 50 - on the green," Watson said. "That's not golf. That's not the way we project ourselves."
Woods drew heat from some quarters for a profane outburst on the sixth hole of the third round last week, but Couples is willing to cut him some slack.
"I'm not going to back him up on everything he does," Couples said, "but that to me wasn't that big of a deal. He's going to get criticized every step of the way. That's going to happen - that's understandable -but for that particular thing, he's not going to be able to cover everything he says. He's not out there to please everybody. He just wants to be a better person, to sign more autographs, be a better golfer on the tour, support the game more. For 12 years, he supported the game by, to me, not making any real mistakes. He wasn't out there carrying guns. He wasn't out there doing anything, and then he was. He's lived that part. Now he's over that. But I think he's a great guy and he's a phenomenal golfer. I'm not a life coach. I'm not a psychologist. I just play golf. And the way he plays, I enjoy watching him play."
-- Bill Fields