Tiger ‘didn’t even look like the same person’: PGA Tour pros react

When they play in Thursday’s opening round in the Memorial Tournament at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village Golf Club, some of golf’s biggest names and brightest stars will be featured in a stout field.

No. 1 ranked Dustin Johnson is playing, as are former No. 1s Jason Day and Jordan Spieth. Phil Mickelson is playing, along with Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and many more.

But much of the pre-tournament talk this week has been about a player who’s not in the field.

The ominous news of Tiger Woods’ Monday arrest for suspicion of driving while under the influence in Florida has hung heavily in the Ohio air, with players talking among themselves about it and being asked by reporters for their reactions.

The latest low point in the complicated life of Woods has become a backdrop to the week at the Memorial, a tournament he has won five times, including three consecutive years from 1999-2001, and a place where he posted the highest score of his PGA Tour career when he staggered to a stunning 85 in the 2015 third round.

Talk of Woods’ latest troubles, which supersede his ongoing recovery from his fourth back surgery since April 2014, is an understandably uncomfortable topic for the players, because most players revere him.

Woods, with his dominant run that lasted nearly two decades and changed the sport for most of the players prominent in the game today, propped up golf. He raised not only the game’s profile but the tournament purses exponentially.

On his way to becoming one of the greatest players ever, Woods made multi-millionaires of middle-of-the-pack players because the tournament purses have risen so dramatically with all of the TV exposure he brought to the sport.

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Now, it sure looks like Woods could use a boost from the game he elevated. When you listen to his fellow players speak of him, you get the feeling they desperately want to help him.

“To see that picture … it’s not the news you want to see,’’ Day told reporters on Wednesday, referring to the mug shot of Woods seen around the world.

Day, who’s about as close with Woods as any of today’s players, said he attempted to “contact’’ Woods, “But obviously I’m sure a lot of people are concerned about his health, as well. He didn’t get back to me, but that’s totally understandable. I’m hoping that his health comes back and he can get back out on the golf course.’’

Watson called it “just tough to see that all over the news.’’

“Look, we all have our dark places, and Tiger is human, which everyone seems to forget,’’ Watson said. “We are all concerned for him as a friend, and we would want to help him in any way we could. Whatever the cause of what happened to him, we just want him to get better.’’

Scott said when he saw the news, “I was just surprised and I guess a bit saddened to see that. I don’t know all the details about it, but hopefully it’s not a worse problem than it is.’’

Current Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk, who always has had a good relationship with Woods, said, “It’s obviously a difficult time for him as he recovers from back surgery. That’s all I can say.’’

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Matt Kuchar added, “It’s difficult to comment. It doesn’t feel right.’’

“We don’t know what happened and we don’t know what’s happening with his back. … We all just want to see him get back to being healthy and playing golf again,’’ Kuchar said.

“Obviously, he’s dealing with a lot,’’ Bill Haas said. “Four back surgeries … how can we know what that’s like? People jump to conclusions. A lot of them are wrong.’’

William McGirt, the defending champion at this week’s Memorial, told reporters he “had to look at [the mug shot] for 10 seconds to figure out who it was. It didn’t even look like the same person.’’

“You cannot give me every penny Tiger has made in his lifetime, tax free, to trade places with him for one day,’’ McGirt said. “I would not want to subject myself or my family to that, because it’s constant public scrutiny [and] public ridicule.’’

Harold Varner, echoing McGirt’s sentiments about the scrutiny Woods lives with, said, “Everyone has their battle or hiccup and all his are videoed and blasted on the media. That’s just the way it is. It sucks for him.’’

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