While saying that he hoped to meet with Fuzzy Zoeller to discuss the racially insensitive remarks his fellow professional golfer made at last month's Masters, Tiger Woods continued yesterday to defuse the incident and the lingering controversy that has followed them.
Making his first appearance on the PGA Tour since his record-setting, history-making victory at Augusta National a little more than a month ago, Woods said at a news conference for the Byron Nelson Classic, "It was a tough deal for everyone, but it's time to move on."
The return of Woods to the tour after his prolonged absence will bring record crowds to the tournament in Dallas this week, but the pre-tournament news conference was a made-for-television event in itself. The first 15 minutes of the nearly one-hour news conference was carried live on CNN.
Asked what he would say to Zoeller, Woods said: "I would like to ask him what he meant exactly by it. I would just have a one-on-one thing, nothing tough. I would like to see his true emotion and let's get it done with. Fuzzy's a great player and he's done a lot of great things. I would hope he would continue to play well and so would I."
It took until the end of that live portion of the news conference for the controversy involving Zoeller to be broached. Zoeller, a player known for his off-the-cuff sense of humor, had joked about Woods' impending victory in which he became the first minority to win the Masters.
Referring to the 21-year-old Woods as a "little boy" -- the same words he used in talking about John Daly after the troubled golfer went into alcohol rehabilitation at the Betty Ford Clinic -- Zoeller said that he hoped the menu for next year's champions dinner at the Masters wouldn't include fried chicken "or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve."
Zoeller, whose comments weren't replayed until more than a week after the Masters, later apologized for them before withdrawing from the Greater Greensboro (N.C.) Classic. He has not played since and said that he wouldn't play again until he had a chance to speak with Woods.
At yesterday's news conference, Woods said he had not yet talked with Zoeller. The two could meet next week when the tour goes to Fort Worth, Texas, for the Colonial. Woods hasn't committed yet to playing in the tournament, but the speculation is that he will play there and at the Memorial Tournament before next month's U.S. Open at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.
Woods seemed visibly uncomfortable talking about the situation regarding Zoeller, whom he has said he considered a friend and a "jokester."
In this case, however, Woods said he didn't think Zoeller was joking.
"I have a problem with that," Woods said. "I'm very good at knowing where people are coming from."
Woods also had to deflect some criticism he received for not attending ceremonies at Shea Stadium to mark the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson's first major-league game three days after Woods won the Masters.
Woods, who was invited to the ceremonies by President Clinton the night of his victory, had previously planned a trip to Cancun, Mexico, with a friend.
"Why didn't Mr. Clinton invite me before the Masters?" Woods said. "If he wanted me to be there with the other athletes, it would have been better to ask me before."
While he has not played competitively since his 12-shot victory at Augusta National, Woods said he has stayed sharp by practicing in California and Florida. There was also the round he played with Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan while Woods was taping interviews with Oprah Winfrey and Barbara Walters.
Woods said he enjoyed playing golf with Jordan.
"We had a great time," said Woods, an avid basketball fan. "We had a lot of fun. We needled each other a lot, and we froze our butts off in Chicago."
One of the first things Woods was asked yesterday was whether, like Jordan, he had considered trying to play another sport. His father Earl has said that Woods could have been a world-class sprinter, perhaps even faster than last summer's Olympic double-gold medalist, Michael Johnson.
"Is sleeping a sport?" said Woods, sounding more like a typical 21-year-old rather than one of the world's transcendent stars.
Pub Date: 5/14/97