By Andrew Both
AUGUSTA, Ga. (Reuters) – No fewer than 11 players were churned through the Masters press centre for interviews at the Masters on Tuesday on such a relentless conveyor belt that it became difficult to keep up with who dropped what cliche.
Rory McIlroy was earnest as usual, Tiger Woods relaxed and Dustin Johnson so obviously bored as he ran out the clock on his semi-obligatory 25-minute interview session.
Some sports, such as tennis, fine players for refusing interview requests, but not so in golf.
Augusta National does not need to be so heavy-handed. Its importance in the eyes of players, and the aura in which the club is held, is such that when asked to go to the media centre they wouldn’t dream of declining.
Woods is almost as deft with his handling of the media as with a wedge in his hand, having long ago mastered the art of saying as little as possible, but in a very eloquent, articulate manner.
The four-times Masters champion was the only player to almost fill the interview room, showing that he is still “the man”, even 14 years removed from last Augusta victory.
There was even a ripple of applause when the 14-times major champion entered, a definite breach of protocol on behalf of the press.
He flashed his patented smile and put on his game face. As usual he did not let his mask drop.
Woods is happy to talk all day about the flex specifications of his shafts and related technical matters, but hit him with a question on his off-course life and one can expect the Tiger stare.
Last year, in the wake of his arrest upon being found asleep at the wheel of his car, he was asked at the U.S. Open how his life had improved since then.
“It’s gotten better,” he said curtly.
But if Woods had any concern that he would be hit with some uncomfortable questions on Tuesday, he need not have worried.
Among other things, he was asked about the logo on his shirt, his popularity with fans and his thoughts on the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
To be fair, he was also questioned about how surprised he was at not having won a major championship in more than a decade.
“I wouldn’t have foreseen that, for sure,” he said.
In contrast to the packed house for Woods, more than half the seats were empty when Rory McIlroy entered the room a little later, never mind that the Northern Irishman is the tournament favourite.
McIlroy is not nearly as guarded as Woods, even willing to speak about his mental approach to the game and life in general, a subject Woods would invariably shut down immediately.
Happy to reveal a list of the books he had read recently, something Woods would regard as a state secret, he cited among others “Ego is the Enemy” by Ryan Holiday.
Later on came Johnson, who doesn’t dislike the press as much as he is bored by the whole thing, almost bemused as to why anyone would care about his thoughts.
But Johnson can be funny with his economy of words.
Asked what it was like playing with noted slowpoke Bryson DeChambeau, he deadpanned: “It takes a long time.”
They will be in the same threesome on Thursday and Friday.
Another thing about news conferences is that everyone has their own agenda, which means questions can veer from topic to topic violently enough to cause whiplash.
One writer working a particular angle asked most every player about the ban on smartphones at Augusta National.
There was unanimous agreement that it was a nice change.
“Wonderful, isn’t it,” said McIlroy, who revealed he is reading a book called “Digital Minimalism”.
“How good is it that people aren’t looking at their phones.”
If it had been any other tournament, reporters would have been looking at their phones as McIlroy spoke.
But such devices are banned from the interview room as well as the course, which means tweeting of the interview would have to wait.
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Christian Radnedge)