British Open: Tiger Woods switches putter, expects good fan reception

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

ST. ANDREWS, SCOTLAND -- Tiger Woods arrived here Sunday and has now played three practice rounds on the Old Course, where he has won two of his three British Open championships. It is undoubtedly a place where he feels comfortable, and he spoke Tuesday about his feelings for the golf course and how it must be played if he is to win his 15th major title -- and first since 2008 -- this week.

The uncomfortable portion of Woods's pre-tournament agenda lasted all of 20 minutes Tuesday morning, a meeting with the international media -- including a British press corps that is far more likely to pry into personal details -- in a small interview room not far from the Old Course's first tee. The session was, for the most part, rather docile, with Woods responding calmly even to questions he believes, particularly during his regular appearances on the PGA Tour, are becoming less frequent and less relevant.

"I'm trying to become a better player and a better person," Woods said, a typical response to the myriad questions about whether he has work to do to rebuild his once flawless public image.

The most significant news from the session actually had nothing to do with Woods's personal life. Woods will use a new putter this week for the first time since 1999, swapping out his trusty Scotty Cameron by Titleist for a Nike model that he believes will better suit St. Andrews's greens, which are slow by major championship standards.

"It rolls the ball better and rolls it faster," he said.

Woods didn't address the matters in which the British press was most interested. Asked about speculation that his divorce with his wife, Elin Nordegren, has been finalized, Woods said, "I'm not going to go into that." In briefly discussing how his life has changed since his November car accident led to revelations about his rampant infidelity, he mentioned his two young children.

"As I said, just trying to become a better person," Woods said. "That's all that really matters is that I have two beautiful kids, and I'm trying to be the best dad I can possibly be, and that's the most important thing of all."

Last week, Woods played in a two-day charity event in Ireland, then flew home to Florida to, as he said, spend time with his kids. In discussing his family life repeatedly -- "The biggest alteration in practicing was when I had kids," he said -- he never mentioned his wife.

"Normally, I don't come over, play two days and then go back home," he said. "But the reason why I did is obviously for my kids, and we had a great time."

Woods played a practice round in extraordinarily windy conditions Sunday -- a day in which tournament officials said they would have halted play in the tournament because of 50-mph gusts -- and then went out again early Monday and Tuesday. He said he has no reason to believe that he'll receive anything but a warm reception when he begins his first round Thursday at 9:09 a.m. local time.

"The Scottish golf fans have always been fantastic with respect to golf and all the players," Woods said. "They've been great to me over the years. I wouldn't see anything different than what they've been over the years."

Despite the fact that he hasn't won in his six tournaments this season -- he tied for fourth at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, his only top-10 finishes -- Woods remains the favorite among bookmakers here. He was asked if winning here, at the place known as "The Home of Golf," would offer any form of redemption.

"I would like to win no matter what," he said. "It would be nice. It really would be nice. A lot of work ahead of me, but to win here is certainly one of the bigger highlights I've ever had in my career, because it is the home of golf. It's amazing how many great champions have won here, and to be a part of that history is a pretty neat feeling."

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