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Tiger Woods begins road to the Masters on the defensive
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. (AP) ' It didn't take long for Tiger Woods to go on the attack in his first trip to the Honda Classic in nearly 20 years. But he was in the press room, not on the golf course.
His road to the Masters is not off to a smooth start.
After closing out 2011 with a birdie-birdie finish to win the Chevron World Challenge against an 18-man field, there were high hopes for Woods going into the new season. And the way he has hit the ball, there is reason for optimism.
But he failed to close out a win in Abu Dhabi with a share of the 54-hole lead against Robert Rock. In the second-to-last group at Pebble Beach while paired with Phil Mickelson, he closed with a 75. The putter is getting attention, especially after missing a 5-footer on the last hole to get eliminated in the second round of the Match Play Championship.
And now, excerpts from Hank Haney's book on his six years as Woods' swing coach are starting to be released.
So when he was asked about the relentless scrutiny of his swing, his putting, just about everything, Woods fired the first volley.
"Yeah, I know," he said. "I think you're one of the guys that does that, too."
There was nervous laughter before Woods continued.
"It's part of who I am and what I've accomplished," he said. "I think it would have been probably similar if Jack (Nicklaus) was probably in my generation. Didn't quite have the media scrutiny that they do now. And it's just a different deal and I know that a lot of players don't get the same analysis with their games that I do. But it's been like that since I turned pro."
When questions turned to the book, Woods grew testy.
Haney's book, "The Big Miss," is scheduled for release March 27, the week before the Masters. Golf Digest on Tuesday began to release excerpts through its tablet applications, and in one of them, Haney details Woods' fascination with the military, particularly the Navy SEALs.
"I was beginning to realize that his sentiment ran deep, and that as incredible as it seemed, Tiger was seriously considering becoming a Navy SEAL," Haney wrote, referring to the summer of 2007. "I didn't know how he'd go about it, but when he talked about, it was clear that he had a plan. After finding out that the Navy SEAL age limit is 28, I asked Tiger about his being too old to join. 'It's not a problem,' he said. 'They're making a special age exemption for me.'"
When asked about the book, Woods said his disappointment with Haney hasn't changed. When asked his reaction to the excerpt, Woods replied, "Well, I've already talked about it."
His agent, Mark Steinberg, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that Haney engaged in "armchair psychology" that was "ridiculous."
"Because of his father, it's no secret that Tiger has always had high respect for the military, so for Haney to twist that admiration into something negative is disrespectful," Steinberg said.
Woods' father, Earl, was part of the U.S. Army's special forces.
The news conference at PGA National turned awkward when Alex Miceli, a Golfweek senior writer and contributor to Golf Channel, asked Woods if he considered being a Navy SEAL at the height of his career.
"I've already talked about everything in the book. I've already commented on everything, Alex," Woods said.
"Then I must have missed you answering that question," Miceli replied.
"Well, I've already commented on the book. Is that in the book? Is it in the book?" Woods said.
Miceli replied he had not seen the book.
"You're a beauty, you know that?" Woods said, forcing a smile.
Miceli said Steinberg's statement suggested something was wrong with the excerpt and he wanted to know if it was true. Woods paused for a moment, said with indifference, "I don't know," then stared at him for nearly five seconds and said, "Have a good day."
It was a change from the way he handled a news conference in December 2010. Tom Callahan had written in "His Father's Son" that he would not have been surprised if Woods had followed his father into the military. Woods was asked that day where Callahan came up with that notion.
"Well, I've always wanted to become a SEAL," Woods said back then. "That's something that I told my dad from the very get-go ' either I'm going to become a professional golfer or I'm going to go become a Navy SEAL."
On Wednesday, Woods worked hard to contain his anger.
Even in questions related to golf, such as how he plays the Masters with the lead and his pursuit of the Nicklaus record, Woods rushed through his answers. He did not look as comfortable as he had been in dealings with the media earlier this year.
He goes onto the course Thursday at PGA National, a course he has not seen since he was 14 and lost on the last day of the PGA Junior Championship to 17-year-old Chris Couch, who went on to win in New Orleans in 2006 for his lone tour victory.
And while Woods looks capable of winning any time he plays ' depending on the putter ' he no longer is considered the favorite. That role belongs to 22-year-old Rory McIlroy, who broke several of Woods' records in winning the U.S. Open last summer and who could go to No. 1 in the world if he were to win.
Also in the field is Lee Westwood, No. 3 in the world, coming off a semifinal loss to McIlroy last week in the Match Play.