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Grouching Tiger

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

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Tiger Woods missed the cut at the 2009 British Open.
(Peter Morrison/AP Photo)

Tiger Woods was fending off reports Tuesday that the PGA Tour fined him for expressing rare candidness – he criticized a decision to force faster play Sunday and said it contributed to Padraig Harrington's meltdown at the Bridgestone Invitational.

While the debate continued, apparently the punishment didn't happen.

"An erroneous report," Tiger said with a smile.

No word on whether Tiger, in turn, fined the Tour for even contemplating it.

After Woods' last major tournament, July's British Open, he was ripped by the same establishment and its press corps for being too demonstrative (slamming clubs, cursing) after poor shots.

"Either behave or get off the course," ESPN's Rick Reilly wrote.

Easy there, Judge Smails.

Tiger enters the final major of the year Thursday, the PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota, and he's embroiled in what passes for him as a cloud of controversy.

Namely, he occasionally dares to be a human. Perhaps even worse for those whose shorts are too tight in the seat, he (gasp) won't even apologize for it.

"It is what it is," Tiger said Tuesday, shrugging it off in a you-scratched-my-anchor-sort of way. "Unfortunately, I do make mistakes and I hit bad shots and I say bad things at times. I don't mean to; it just comes out. It's not something that I try and do. It just happens."

That it "just happens" is every reason to embrace this behavior, not threaten to fine or banish him from the game. Nothing else Tiger does "just happens."

The guy is 33. He's been on television since he was 2. And yet the public, despite being desperate for any and all insight, knows almost nothing about him that wasn't sculpted or scripted.

Tiger post errant shot or annoyed at a rule-book stickler are about the only glimpses into his true personality. They may not reveal his most becoming side, but this is what we have to work with – the only parts left which IMG and Nike haven't scrubbed clean.

Some want him to be a good little Tiger and rigidly accept all rules and rulings of authority, even ridiculous ones such as Sunday. Harrington and Woods may have been playing "slow" but since they were the final group, locked in a duel for the tournament, who gave a whit?

Woods offering an honest opinion and sticking up for a guy he just defeated is endearing, not fine-worthy.

And, sure, it would be great if Woods was a perfect gentleman out there, never frazzled under pressure, never veered from the old guard's idea of course conduct. It'd be better for the kids and all of that stuff, proof he stood for goodness, not badness – or something like that.

Good isn't best, though. It certainly isn't for everyone seeking a peek at the hidden Tiger.

If you need just one reason to savor his harmless outbursts, it's this: If they could, Nike officials would send their henchmen out to steal all the tapes of him slamming clubs and officials. This is what they don't want you to know.

Other than this, Tiger says virtually nothing of interest in his abbreviated media appearances. He steers all answers away from personal matters to professional concerns. The quickest way out of his inner circle is to talk out of turn to the media. He is fiercely apolitical. He's never penned an autobiography, filmed an MTV Cribs-style tour of his home or done an emotive one-on-one interview.

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Woods' bag sports stuffed animal-club covers.
(Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

He rarely even smiles at, let alone talks to, fans out on the course.

"When I'm playing, I just kind of like to get in my own little world and do my thing," he said.

His friends say he has a wicked sense of humor, but he hasn't publicly cracked more than a lame PG-rated joke in years. He certainly appears to be a good family man, but it's not like he invites us into that dynamic. He has his own charity, but it seems he does most of that work quietly. There are whispers of various feuds with people, but they rarely become public. In a strange twist of softness, he still has stuffed animal-club covers in his bag, but no explanation why.

No one is really sure what he does with his free time – only that he never, ever gets in any trouble. These days, that ought to earn him a free pass for swearing like he hauls stuff up The Dalton.

He says he plays with his two kids a lot. He owns a big boat. On occasion, he attends Orlando Magic games, but to say he's a real fan is a stretch. He wouldn't pick a side when they met the Los Angeles Lakers, his childhood team, in June's NBA Finals.

"Hopefully, it will be a great series," he cheerily wrote on his website.

Although he lives in Windermere, in Central Florida, the Orlando Sentinel once failed to find one local restaurant he regularly frequented and few which had ever served him at all.

The more the public wants, the less it gets. No detail is too absurd. Last week, the Internet was awash in investigations over whether Woods engaged in some on-course flatulence while winning the Buick Open (the verdict: it wasn't him).

Essentially, we know nothing. Everything is kept hidden, which isn't just his right but a brilliant career move as well. Forbes estimated he earned $110 million last year – a mere $65 million more than second-place athlete breadwinners Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan.

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Woods and his wife Elin at Game 4 of the NBA finals between the Magic and Lakers.
(David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

For that kind of cash, it's not why would he say anything different; it's why would he say anything at all?

Every once in a while, though, he can't help himself. The competitive fire that powers his outrageous success bubbles over and his inner Tiger emerges. He swears at his two iron. He hits his driver out of anger. He rolls his eyes and acts out, for an instant, in frustration. He calls a dumb ruling a dumb ruling.

It's Tiger Woods. For one fleeting, fantastic second, it's the real Tiger Woods.

These horrifying outbursts of humanity don't tell me he's a poor sport or anti-authority. It tells me he might, on some level, actually be normal.

Perhaps late at night, when he sits at his 48-person dining-room table and looks over his monthly statement, he sees that his bank hit him with some absurdly high and unnecessary "maintenance fee." And even though he can afford it, on principle, he calls someone up and complains about it.

Perhaps when he sits down in front of his 3,000-inch HD television, he discovers that one of his kids hit an obscure series of keys that secretly disabled the Blu-Ray. After 15 minutes of failed reversal attempts – complete with some plugging and unplugging of colored cords – he swears and chucks the remote across the room.

See, he's just like us.

It isn't much, but it's all we have. And it's more than his marketing suits would like us to get.

More than his critics would allow too. You'd ask what they want from the guy but that's pretty obvious – any shred of imperfection they can find to denounce him.

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