MELBOURNE, Australia – Tiger Woods appeared to turn his back on Torrey Pines when he announced last week that he would open his 2012 season that week in Abu Dhabi at the HSBC Championship, with an appearance fee that likely approaches $3 million.
Woods not only is a seven-time winner at Torrey Pines – including the 2008 U.S. Open – he has started every season when healthy in San Diego since 2006, and the Farmers Insurance Open was the only California event he played during the West Coast swing.
But there’s a bigger picture to his scheduling.
Indications are that Woods plans a return to the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am for the first time since 2002.
Such a move would make sense. Even though AT&T became the second corporate sponsor to drop Woods after revelations of his extramarital affairs in November 2009, it stayed on as the title sponsor of his tournament. Woods no longer is the official host of the AT&T National in early July, but his foundation remains the main charity beneficiary.
Woods had planned to play Pebble Beach in 2010 when he had the AT&T logo on his bag, though that was before his personal life imploded. He could not play last year because it was opposite the Dubai Desert Classic, and Woods was fulfilling an existing contract.
Since he last played the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the tournament has improved by trimming the field from 180 players to 156 players, and taking Poppy Hills out of the rotation and replacing it with the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula.
Woods last played Pebble Beach in 2010 at the U.S. Open, when he shot 75 in the final round and tied for fourth. His link to Pebble Beach will always be 2000, when he came from five shots behind in the last round to win the AT&T for his seventh straight PGA Tour victory, then shattered records with a 15-shot win at the U.S. Open that summer.
As for Abu Dhabi?
It had the strongest field of any European Tour event this year outside the majors and World Golf Championships, yet the title sponsor cannot be overlooked. HSBC is one of the primary corporate sponsors (AT&T is another) of the Tiger Woods Foundation, which includes being a founding partner of the Tiger Woods Learning Center.
Besides, there is precedence to Woods skipping Torrey Pines.
In his first full year on the PGA Tour, he instead went overseas for two weeks of appearance money. Woods won the Asian Honda Classic and tied for eighth in the Australian Masters. That was two months before he won the 1997 Masters.
NEXT UP: When Nick Price was last seen at the Presidents Cup, the tension was so high in South Africa that he snapped a putter over his knee on the 18th hole at Fancourt. His next appearance is likely to be as the International team captain.
Price fits the profile as a three-time major champion, an immensely popular player from Zimbabwe who was No. 1 in the world and played on the first five teams.
As for the United States’ next captain? That’s where it gets a little more up in the air.
The logical choice would be Mark O’Meara, snubbed by the PGA of America as captain of the Ryder Cup went it went to Ireland in 2006. The two-time major champion is interested in the job and was the first player to go 5-0 in the Presidents Cup.
Other options could be Kenny Perry, a three-time winner of the Memorial at Muirfield Village, site of the 2013 Presidents Cup. The PGA Tour might also inquire about Tom Watson, in keeping with earlier times of the Presidents Cup when the captains included Arnold Palmer, Peter Thomson, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.
WORLD CUP: Gareth Paddison of New Zealand was raving about the power of Dustin Johnson and Bubba Watson, asking which of them could hit it the longest off the tee. A short time later, Paddison mentioned how thrilled he was that he and Michael Hendry would be playing in the World Cup, which starts Thursday at Mission Hills in China.
Paddison holed a bunker shot in the playoff as New Zealand earned one of three spots in a qualifier at Malaysia. The Kiwis will be part of the 28-man field.
“I know Matt Kuchar is playing for the United States,” Paddison said. “I don’t know much about the other guy.”
For someone intrigued by sheer power, wait until Paddison gets his eyes on Gary Woodland.
Kuchar and Woodland will try to end a 10-year losing streak by the Americans, who once dominated an event that dates to 1953. They will be far from favorites, however. Far from it.
Northern Ireland is sending the last two U.S. Open champions (Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell), while South Africa counters with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel and former British Open champion Louis Oosthuizen. Ian Poulter and Justin Rose are playing for England. The defending champion from 2009 is Italy, which returns Francesco and Edoardo Molinari.
HOPEFULS AND FAILURES: As a reminder how quickly fortunes can turn in golf, consider Woody Austin in the Presidents Cup just four years ago. He fell face first into the water at Royal Montreal trying to play a shot and was nicknamed “Aquaman.”
As the Americans were winning at Royal Melbourne, Austin failed to get through the second stage of Q-school and now only has status as a past champion.
Austin wasn’t alone. Among others who failed to get through the second stage were past PGA Tour winnersWill MacKenzie, Joe Durant, Robert Damron, Ted Purdy, Parker McLachlin, Eric Axley and Frank Lickliter.
Advancing to the final stage were Tommy Armour III, former major champions Rich Beem and Lee Janzen, along with Boo Weekley, a favorite in the Ryder Cup just three years ago at Valhalla.
A pair of college kids who won this year on the Nationwide Tour had mixed results – Harris English advanced to the final stage next week in California, while Russell Henley did not. Henley, of course, still has full status in the minor leagues.
Sam Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, also made it to the Q-school finals for the first time. Ty Tryon, who first earned his card in 2001 when he was 17, made it back to the final stage 10 years later.
DIVOTS: Phil Mickelson now has played 42 matches in the Presidents Cup, breaking the record held by Vijay Singh (40). When he lost to Adam Scott in singles, it ended an 11-match unbeaten streak for Mickelson in the Presidents Cup. … Gary Hallberg, the first of six players who earned PGA Tour cards without going to Q-school, was among five players who earned Champions Tour cards last week. The others were P.H. Horgan III, Jeff Hart, Jim Rutledge and Jeff Freeman. … Symetra has signed on as the umbrella sponsor for the LPGA’s developmental tour. It now will be called the Symetra Tour. … Those who buy tickets to the Memorial next year will get a one-time link that allows them access to Presidents Cup tickets in 2013 at Muirfield Village at a discounted rate of $165 for a grounds pass. That ticket normally is $207 for the week.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The Americans have a 7-1-1 record in the Presidents Cup. After the first nine matches at the Ryder Cup, the Americans had a 7-2-0 record.
FINAL WORD: “Just because we lost doesn’t mean to say we didn’t win.” International captain Greg Norman, whose team lost 19-15 to the Americans in the Presidents Cup.