Woods master from tee to green, but off-course judgments suspect

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Now that he has ascended to an incredibly lofty perch, it will be interesting to see if sport's new Wunderkind, Tiger Woods, gets the proverbial mulligan from the press as he returns to the course this weekend in the Byron Nelson Classic, after a month off from his Masters triumph.

Woods, who faced the media the other day in a news conference carried by ESPNEWS, CNN/SI and CNN, got in some golf and interviews with Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey during his vacation, but apparently did little during his time off to hone his common sense.

In his first public appearance since his vacation, Woods not only dismissed Fuzzy Zoeller's apology for his racially insensitive remarks after Woods' Masters win, but then declined President Clinton's invitation to Shea Stadium for a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's hurdling baseball's color barrier.

First, Woods told the gathering that he had "a problem with" Zoeller's remarks, in which Zoeller referred to the 21-year-old as a "little boy" and then said he hoped Woods would not add fried chicken and collard greens to the menu of next year's Masters champions dinner.

Woods was certainly right to be offended and said so after the remarks became public, but not before letting Zoeller twist in the wind for three days and then issuing a statement through his management group. Now, it seems that Woods isn't so sure that he wants to accept Zoeller's apparently heartfelt contritions, adding that he, meaning Woods, is "very good at knowing where people are coming from."

Maybe the public should know where Woods was coming from when he made some crude cracks about lesbians and blacks in the current edition of GQ. Woods artfully dodged the differences between his insensitive remarks and Zoeller's, and one wonders why he hasn't faced the same scrutiny that Zoeller has.

Then, Woods, who went to Cancun, Mexico, after the Masters, but not before blessing the opening of two celebrity restaurants in Florida and South Carolina, said that if Clinton had wanted him to attend the Robinson ceremony, "it would have been better to ask me before."

Well, gee, Tiger, we ask the President to be so many things these days, including brave, politically astute and monogamous. you think he should be clairvoyant, too?

Clinton was trying to use Woods' win in one of the most historically racist sporting events to show the world just how far we've come in 50 years, but Tiger found it more important to play on the beach in Mexico. The fact that he took three more weeks off after the Robinson ceremony just reinforces how childish his decision was.

Besides, this wasn't like Phil Knight, the founder of his corporate sponsor, Nike, asking for his attendance, though one suspects that if Knight had done the beckoning, Woods would have been there like a shot. This was one of the three audiences you don't refuse, the others being meetings with the pope and an IRS auditor.

At any rate, Tiger will no doubt burn brightly today and tomorrow during early-round coverage on USA (4 p.m.) before ABC takes over on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's coverage will not be seen locally, as Channel 2 blows out its whole day to lead in to the Preakness, but Sunday's final-round telecast begins at 4 p.m. Hopefully, Tiger will become smart enough to learn how to regret missed opportunities and poorly chosen words, and that an otherwise compliant media will help teach him.

Around the dial

The usual Friday look at weekend events on the tube and the radio moves up a day as tomorrow's "Media Watch" will focus exclusively on the Preakness.

Game 6 of the Seattle-Houston NBA series airs at 9 tonight on TNT, which has done a masterful job of covering the basketball playoffs to this point. Either the seventh game of that series or the first game of a Utah-Houston Western Conference final soiree would air at 3 p.m. Saturday on NBC (Channel 11). NBC will have either the seventh game of Miami-New York series or the first game of the Chicago-Knicks series at 3 p.m. Sunday, with the draft lottery coming at halftime of that telecast.

On the chilled agua, ESPN and Fox begin televising the NHL conference finals. Actually, that's not entirely true. ESPN will carry the Eastern and Western series, while Fox stays wedded to the New York Rangers and whoever they happen to be playing, which, in this case, will be Philadelphia.

The Detroit-Colorado series begins at 8: 30 tonight on ESPN, with Game 2 at 7: 30 p.m. Saturday. The first game of the Flyers-Rangers series starts at 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow on ESPN2, before Fox (Channel 45) takes over for a 2 p.m. Sunday telecast.

One of ABC's infrequent "Passion to Play" specials airs Sunday (Channel 2, 3 p.m.) and looks at the effects of Title IX after 25 years, with stories on Olympic softball gold medalist Dot Richardson and on a Syracuse wrestler whose program is being eliminated, supposedly because the university must offer more opportunities to women.

Finally, WWLG (1360 AM) will carry the NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinal doubleheader from Maryland on Sunday, with Johns Hopkins meeting Duke at 1 p.m., followed by the Terps and Virginia at 3: 45 p.m.

Pub Date: 5/15/97

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