REPORT: Tiger Woods talks with members of the media in a press conference during a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club.

May 15, 2024

Tiger Woods’ old mantra gets new life — whatever you say, say nothing

Tiger Woods talks with members of the media in a press conference during a practice round for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Valhalla Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Through nearly three decades in the public eye, Tiger Woods has remained a consummate corporate cipher, dodging troublesome inquiries with an enigmatic ease that would have impressed Louisville’s own Muhammad Ali. No one has ever said less more often, a muscle he’ll work strenuously while facing inquiries about his work on the PGA Tour’s new subcommittee tasked with talking to the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund.

On Monday, independent director Jimmy Dunne resigned from the Tour’s Policy Board and bemoaned a lack of progress in advancing the Framework Agreement with the PIF that he helped architect, the June 6 announcement of which blindsided players (including Woods) and sparked a bitter governance review during which a faction of player-directors repeatedly demanded accountability from those who worked secretly on the deal unbeknownst to the rest of the board. A day after Dunne’s departure, Woods was asked how optimistic he is about a Saudi deal being reached.

“I think we’re working on negotiations with PIF. It’s ongoing; it’s fluid; it changes day-to-day,” he said, revealing as much as a burka. “Has there been progress? Yes. But it’s an ongoing negotiation, so a lot of work ahead for all of us with this process, and so we’re making steps and it may not be giant steps, but we’re making steps.”

Unlike Rory McIlroy, who has said a deal with PIF is in the best interests of the game, Woods hasn’t detailed what resolution he’d like to see, an astute strategy in that it keeps his counterparts wondering if he wants one at all. He was a vocal critic of LIV and allied with McIlroy to reshape the Tour in an effort to prevent more players leaving, but that was before executives performed an about-face on the Saudis to rival that of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist.” Woods acknowledged that he and McIlroy are not so aligned in their thinking now.

“It’s good to see it differently, but collectively as a whole we want to see whatever’s best for all the players, the fans, and the state of golf,” he said. “How we get there, that’s to be determined, but the fact that we’re in this together and in this fight together to make golf better is what it’s all about.”

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Pressed on what he wants to see happen, Woods blocked: “I’m not going to comment. Except that we’re making steps. That’s all I can say.”

Are you personally open to a deal with the Saudis?

“I’m personally involved in the process.”

Dunne called me Monday evening and described his position on the board as having become “superfluous,” describing a ghostly existence in which he wasn’t a decision-maker and wasn’t consulted by those who are — a predictable result of his role in the Framework Agreement. Woods was asked if he agreed with Dunne’s assessment.

“No,” he replied. “Jimmy and the amount of work and dedication that he put into the board and to the PGA Tour, it’s been incredible. It was a bit surprising that he resigned yesterday and just how it all came about, but, no, his role and his help, then what he’s been able to do for the PGA Tour has been great.”

It was a commendable effort at sincerity. Woods’ fellow director, Jordan Spieth, was also at pains to push back on a narrative that players now wield too much power, insisting that good governance has now been established. He used the word “balance” or a derivation thereof 11 times in his Tuesday press conference.

Tiger Woods smiled as his group approached the 5th green during a practice round in the PGA Championship at the Valhalla Golf Course in Louisville, Ky. on May. 14, 2024.

If Woods is opposed to or ambivalent about a Saudi deal, he finds himself now in an awkward position. No one will be collaring PIF governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan during negotiations to raise human rights abuses by the government whose slush fund he runs. Those in the room are determined to treat this dispute as purely commercial in nature. But no matter how artfully it is dressed up — unifying the game for fans, offering clarity to sponsors, safeguarding the PGA Tour — the entire sport will assume enormous reputational risk if it chooses to be in business with a mercurial dictator who dissects dissidents.

Should a PIF the deal happen? If morality matters, absolutely not. The game shouldn’t be leveraged to sportswashers under the guise of unity.

Will a PIF deal happen? It’s more likely than not, since all parties are incentivized to make it happen.

If terms can’t be agreed upon, multiple scenarios become the subject of conjecture. Can the PGA Tour go it alone with private equity? Do those investors have the stomach for financing a battle against the Saudis? Will players try waiting out PIF’s willingness to torch a billion-plus annually on a failed product? Would PIF seek to upend Europe’s strategic alliance with the PGA Tour?

None of those are readily answerable questions, but since they’re questions of commerce, they are a damned sight easier for the powers that be to consider than one simple question of conscience.

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