ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) - Adopt a more relaxed attitude on the course and you never know things might flow more smoothly off it for Tiger Woods, reckons his close friend Mark O‘Meara.
“I‘m not in the same position as him so it’s hard for me to tell Tiger what to do, but I do believe that on the course he’s got to go a little easier on himself,” the 1998 U.S. Masters and British Open champion told Reuters after a practice round with his troubled companion.
Woods needs all the support he can get after confessing to a string of extra-marital affairs earlier this year, throwing his personal life and marriage with Swedish wife Elin into turmoil.
As O‘Meara put a friendly arm around the world number one on the Old Course’s fairways Tuesday it was hard to imagine anyone more suitable of helping Woods on the road to recovery.
”I think he’s getting there. Listen, I’ve been through this. I went through a divorce a couple of years ago, though mine was not public like his.
“I‘m not saying that they’re going to be divorced, but I‘m just saying that when you go through a period in your personal life where you struggle, and lord knows he’s struggled, it’s very, very difficult,” the affable 53-year-old said.
When Woods ended his self-imposed exile at the U.S. Masters earlier this year the American said he would try to be a better person and to engage with the crowds more.
There has been little evidence of that so far this week at St Andrews, but O‘Meara said Woods’ unique golfing talents should be appreciated rather than trying to mold him into someone he is not.
“I don’t think he can change overnight. Eventually I think he will, but at majors he’s very, very focused,” he said.
”People are who they are. Some of the greats who played the game never really opened up to everyone.
”Tiger is not Mark O‘Meara, but maybe because Tiger’s the way he is that’s what has made him the player he is. It’s a catch 22.
”I think he’s going to make a conscious effort to try to smile more, to try to be a little more friendly to the fans.
“The fans love him, why not?”
This was evident as Woods walked from the 17th green to the practice area pursued by hoards of young autograph hunters, with barely even a glance in their direction.
“It sucks man,” a dejected fan said after a member of Woods’s entourage sternly told him to ‘Get back’ after the politest of requests for the great man’s name in his book.
As one of Woods’s close friends however O‘Meara was quick to defend the image of the 14-times major winner.
“Even when he was playing good he still got hot out there so it’s not like he always walked around with a big old smile on his face. But it’s easy to smile when you’re winning and everything’s going your way, its not so easy to smile when you’re struggling,” he said.
“If your personal life is in disarray it’s going to be very difficult to perform at the highest level in your professional life.”
Fans may just have to accept that one of the game’s greatest ever players is not readily going to smile in their direction.
“There’s been a lot of pressure that’s he’s placed on himself too, with everything that’s happened in his personal life,” O‘Meara added.
“He really hasn’t spoken much about it with me. I‘m his friend and I care about him and his family. It would mess anybody up, even the greatest player and he is the greatest player.”
How does O‘Meara rate Woods’s chances this week?
“I would expect Tiger to have a good week this week. I thought he was swinging quite a bit better than what I’ve seen in the last six-eight weeks,” he said.
Editing by Miles Evans