PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. -- Tiger Woods likes to fish, so when the subject was broached, he seemed only too happy to discuss something I know even less about than the golf swing.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "Largemouth bass. They're everywhere around here."
When he mentioned "here," Tiger referred to the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass, where the world's best golfers will begin THE PLAYERS Championship on Thursday, thus marking the 30th anniversary of this championship on this venue. Tiger was playing a relaxed half-practice round with Arjun Atwal on Tuesday afternoon, unusually late for Woods, who dropped off his children at school in the morning, then drove a couple hours from Orlando. On Wednesday, Tiger was back at his customary dawn patrol drill.
But enough about golf for the moment. Some of us are ancient enough to remember when the Stadium Course debuted in 1982 and the discussion was primarily about flora and fauna and fish. Pete Dye, the Hall of Fame architect, declared that life isn't fair, so why should he build a golf course that's fair? A whole lot of professional golfers agreed. They didn't particularly care how the greens were rolling, but they were thrilled about how the fish were biting.
"I wasn't here at the start," said Ernie Els. "But, you've got to remember, for a while this felt like playing golf on the moon. It's a lot different now. A lot of the rough edges smoothed out. But, even in the beginning, guys would bring their rods and reels out here. Phil Blackmar, Mike Hulbert."
Naturally, golfers tend to be fond of the outdoors and fishing allows them a peaceful slice of solitude. Mind you, largemouth bass are known for putting up a fight. They have an attitude, possibly because five different states -- Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee -- designate the largemouth bass as its state fish. You would be feisty, too, if five different states were trying to catch and kill you, let alone one.
"The lake on the left of the 18th hole," said Woods. "You just put a worm on a hook and throw a line out and here they come. There are other places around here, too. Lots of largemouth bass in the waters around the practice areas."
Next question. Do you broil a largemouth bass or fry it?
"You don't eat a largemouth bass, at least I don't," said Woods. "You throw it back and maybe when you come back the next day, the largemouth bass will be an even larger-mouth bass."
To the uneducated eye -- and you've come to the right place for that -- I see a Tiger Woods who is standing closer to the ball upon address, not quite as upright. Smarter people than me frequently inquire when Tiger will perfect the swing under his newest teacher, Sean Foley. Woods' response is that constructing a swing, or reconstructing a swing, doesn't occur overnight. It can take years. That, I can identify with, although I will not identify my teacher. We have a sweet deal. I take an hour lesson, then he pays me $200 not to use his name, ever.
"This course is distinctive in one way," said Woods. "It brings everyone together because of the angles. We're all basically hitting to the same posts and playing to the same areas. It just depends on what clubs you use to get to those spots. You can't fake it."
As has been frequently reported, big hitters do not necessarily prevail at THE PLAYERS. Fred Funk won here in 2005, when he ranked 197th on the PGA TOUR in driving distance; Tim Clark in 2010, when he ranked 188th and K.J. Choi last year, when he ranked 134th. Woods won here only once, 2001, and he is on record as wishing the 17th hole came a little earlier in the round. Say, on the front nine.
Watch the full version of Tiger Woods' pre-tournament press conference at THE PLAYERS Championship.
But that famously infamous par-3 lily pad has contributed mightily to the tournament, and this is show biz, right? Only a few courses on the PGA TOUR rotation -- or in the world, for that matter -- are more recognizable than The Stadium layout.
Whether THE PLAYERS will become the "fifth major" is the stuff of ongoing debate. I don't know that the sport demands a "fifth major" here, or, considering the globalization of golf, a fourth major in the United States. It does feel as though the PGA TOUR isn't pushing the issue as emphatically as it once did, which is fine. Once upon a time, it was golf writers who conferred major status on events such as the Masters. Now, since there are more golf majors than there are golf writers, the task is in good hands.
"It's up to us players," said Tom Pernice Jr.
Without a doubt, however, the move from March to May has been wise. In March, THE PLAYERS was up against NCAA basketball and often described as a tune-up for Augusta National. Now, THE PLAYERS competes with pro basketball and hockey playoffs. Joe LaCava, Woods' caddy, is a New York fan, a fact duly noted by Tiger.
"He roots against the Knicks and Rangers," said LaCava, who still bathes in Giants Super Bowl glory.
"No," said Woods. "I'm from Los Angeles. I've always rooted for the Lakers. And same with the Kings. I didn't just start rooting for the Kings now that they're good, either. I was for them when Wayne Gretzky played there."
Strangely enough, Foley is Canadian and admits to scant interest in hockey. Of course, if you had Woods, Hunter Mahan and Justin Rose as high-profile clients, you probably wouldn't be glued to the Stanley Cup playoffs, either. But what does a superstar guru like Foley do for relaxation? Fish?
Which reminded me.
"When you catch a largemouth bass today," I inquired, "can you tell if it's the same one you threw back in the lake yesterday?
Tiger Woods paused.
"You don't fish, do you?" he said.
Bob Verdi is a freelance columnist for PGATOUR.COM His views do not necessarily represent the views of the PGA TOUR.