It’s less surprising that Tiger Woods will reportedly return to the zoo known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the first time since 2001 than it is that he hasn’t added more starts to his schedule.
Golf.com reported on Wednesday that Woods seems likely to add the Arizona stop to his dance card later this month, but after missing the majority of last season with various injuries the alternative would be nearly six months of competitive inactivity since his last meaningful start at August’s PGA Championship (with apologies to the Hero World Challenge, an 18-man field during the Challenge Season is closer to a rehab start than it is Game 1 of the World Series).
Woods has always embraced a less-is-more mentality when it comes to his schedule, a tactic that has served him well through 79 Tour victories and 14 majors, but now is not the time for ball counts and competitive convalescence.
Although Woods’ manager told GolfChannel.com that “nothing [is] committed yet” regarding his potential start at the Waste Management, because of a reworked Tour schedule this year that moved the WGC-Match Play out of the West Coast swing Woods would have had just four starts before the Masters in April if he maintains his traditional lineup.
Under normal circumstances that might not be a glaring concern, but the former world No. 1 managed just seven Tour starts last year because of injury and made it to Sunday on just three occasions.
Consider that prior to his four victorious trips down Magnolia Lane (2005, 2002, 2001 and 1997) Woods averaged 6.75 starts in the run up to the year’s first major and he has historically played his best golf during the dog days of summer.
Nor does it seem like a coincidence that just three times since 2008, the last year he won a major championship, he played more than 12 events in a season.
In fact, just once in his career has he won a major after fewer than six starts, and that was at the ’08 U.S. Open when he was sidelined with knee and leg injuries and needed a Herculean effort to claim Grand Slam No. 14.
The point is, when Woods speaks of reps it’s not the sun-splashed range sessions in South Florida that he’s talking about. The only way to properly prepare is to bend a mold that, although has been successful in the past, no longer dovetails with his competitive needs.
Woods hinted at as much in December when he said his schedule this year would probably be, “slightly different ... I’ll have a pretty full schedule next year.”
Maybe the outdoor cocktail party at TPC Scottsdale, where Woods has finished in the top 5 twice in his three starts, isn’t the perfect fit, but given the alternative of playing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (where weather hasn’t historically been ideal) or the Northern Trust Open (which would require he play four events in five weeks) it was his best option.
While it may not be a popular option at PGA Tour headquarters, there will be time to rest after the PGA Championship in August.
In simplest terms, if trading a start in the fall, say at The Barclays, for a week or two in the spring adds up to success at Augusta National or St. Andrews so be it. After all, it wasn’t Jack Nicklaus’ FedEx Cup record hanging on the wall when Woods was growing up.