For 13 years it was hard, if not impossible, to question the means to Tiger Woods’ historic ends. His yearly schedule throughout his march to Jack Nicklaus’ major championship benchmark has been as productive as it has been virtually unchanged.
Since 1997, Woods’ first full year on the PGA Tour, he’s played more than 20 events just three times and hasn’t exceeded 17 events in a single calendar since 2006. It adds up to a 16.7-event average (nearly identical, interestingly enough, to Nicklaus’ career average of 16.8 events from 1962-1986). Although Woods’ yearly average was low by Tour standards, considering his career scorecard it’s a reality that has defied debate.
But that was before he signed for a front-nine 42 at May’s Players Championship, before he went on the “DL” for three months, before he finished tied for 37th at the WGC- Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut at the PGA Championship with rounds of 77-73.
Since 2007 Woods has played a “full” dance card just once (2009) as a result of an assortment of injuries, both physical and personal. That his last major victory was in ’08 and he’s likely bound for his second consecutive season without a Tour title may simply be another symptom of the larger malaise. Or maybe it is the ailment.
“I need to get out there and get the reps in,” Woods said last Wednesday at Atlanta Athletic Club.
It is here where Woods’ actions and his anecdotal comments seem to diverge.
Woods’ tattered left Achilles’ tendon has relegated him to the bench for much of the season, but by all accounts the game’s most mysterious left leg is officially off the shelf and ready for prime time. Yet Woods remains on hiatus in south Florida.
He didn’t qualify for the upcoming FedEx Cup playoffs, which means his next possible Tour start would be in Las Vegas in late September. Asked on Friday at the PGA Championship Woods said he “might” play a Fall Series or European Tour event, but stressed that his next “scheduled” start is currently November’s Australian Open, the week before the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.
Woods’ retooled action may work in the south Florida lab with swing coach Sean Foley close by, but until it is tested on a Tour Sunday it remains a work in progress. So why not add a Fall Series start? He’s a two-time champion at Disney, is close enough to Sea Island (Ga.) Resort to commute to the McGladrey Classic via “Air Tiger” and, as we all know by now, he knows his way around Vegas.
Better yet, why not play an event on the European Tour?
For the first time in his career he can play the European circuit without having to request a “competing-event release” from the Tour because he’s not qualified for the playoffs, would likely be able to negotiate a healthy appearance fee and Colin Montgomerie recently said he has extended an invitation to Woods to play next week’s Johnnie Walker Championship in Scotland.
“It would be superb if he accepted,” Monty said. “I know he has his children to think about, and all that sort of stuff that goes with family commitments, but wouldn’t it be great if he did say yes to any of our European Tour events? If you don’t ask, you don’t get, so it’s worth a go.”
But this goes beyond “reps” or a perceived rehab start. Woods is on pace to fall outside of the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking by the end of the year, although he could stem that slide at the Australian Open and his own Chevron World Challenge, a silly-season event played in December that doles out ranking points.
At his current rate he could in theory drop outside the top 64, which would keep him out of the 2012 WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, likely his second scheduled start next season after Torrey Pines.
Nor is he currently qualified for the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China at the end of October. Woods must crack the top 25 in the World Ranking by Oct. 17, the Monday after the McGladrey event, to qualify for the limited-field tournament which he has played the last two years. Currently, he would be the 14th alternate for the HSBC, just behind Brendan Steele.
Adding a stray event or two to his schedule could also help U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples, who has made it clear Woods will be one of his two captain’s picks, a decision that has everything to do with Woods’ stellar record in the matches (18-11-1) and not his pedestrian play this season.
Woods’ former swing coach Hank Haney recently tweeted a familiar line that seems to apply to the current schedule conundrum. “Golf doesn’t lend itself to instant analysis.” For 13 years that has certainly been the golden rule when it came to all things Woods.
But that reality has changed, and maybe it’s time Woods changed the way he looks at his schedule.