Hey, the punch lines are still coming fast and easy at Woods' expense, but at least now they're focused on his on-course foibles rather than anything away from the game.
Just a few weeks removed from the Rules Decision Heard 'Round the World, the game’s No. 1-ranked player made a decision of his own that speaks volumes. But alas, much like the call from the Masters rules committee, exactly what it says is all based in the translation.
Here is a foursome of hypotheses that can be gleaned by Woods’ decision to skip the Quail Hollow festivities:
• He no longer needs more reps.
For the past few years, Woods has consistently and almost constantly reminded us that the key component to playing better competitive golf is getting “more reps” – which, of course, is just fancy golf lingo for the old “practice makes perfect” axiom.
In fact, a Google search for “Tiger Woods+more reps” yields more than 50,000 results. That doesn’t mean Woods uttered those words that many times, but the number may not be too far off.
By skipping the Wells Fargo, he is essentially informing us that the More Reps Era has come to an official end. This should be perceived as both a significant and positive sign. With three wins last year and three already this year, Woods has cleared an important hurdle by not needing to compete on a more regular basis.
That may be viewed as bad news by the PGA Tour, network television and legions of fans, but for a player who has never hidden his preference to play fewer tournaments, “Tiger Woods+enough reps” should serve as sweet music to his search engine.
• The Players Championship isn’t the fifth major.
Despite annual pleas from PGA Tour brass, the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.-based event isn’t on par with the four majors; if anything, it’s first among The Other Ones.
Two years ago, while sitting in a comfy chair in the interview room at TPC Sawgrass, Woods was bluntly honest in his assessment of the tournament, saying, “The whole idea is that I peak four times a year and I'm trying to get ready for [the U.S. Open] and I need some playing time.”
He later added, “This is a big event and I want to be here and play.” Although it should be noted that the man who once played 91 holes on a torn ACL and fractured leg – at a major, of course – withdrew with a knee injury two days later after playing just nine holes.
If we needed further proof that The Players doesn’t rank on the same elite level as the majors, Woods provided it this week. At no point in his professional career has he voluntarily elected to take a three-week respite prior to a major, only allowing for that much time because of injury, his father’s death in 2006 or his lengthy self-imposed absence in 2010.
Assuming there is no lingering factor in his decision to eschew the Wells Fargo, it clearly flies in the face of his usual strategy to prepare for majors.
• His future at Quail Hollow could be in doubt.
“This simply came down to scheduling. Nothing else,” Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg said in an email. “Tiger typically likes to take three weeks off post-Masters. That ended up being the determining factor this year. He has enjoyed Charlotte/Wells Fargo for many years.”
That should serve as a legitimate explanation and sufficient reasoning. However, it should be noted that in the three-year period from 2008-10 – when, like this year, there were only two weeks separating the Masters and the Wells Fargo Championship – Woods returned after that same two-week break to play the tournament in each instance.
Then there’s this: His track record shows that once a tourney is out, it usually doesn’t come back.
Woods stopped playing the Byron Nelson Championship in 2004 and hasn’t returned since. He stopped playing the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in 2005 and hasn’t returned since. He stopped playing the Northern Trust Open in 2006 and hasn’t returned since.
You get the picture. If Peggy Nelson, beachside paradise in Maui and NBA legend Jerry West pitching Tiger's hometown event aren’t enough to persuade him to launch a comeback at any of those, then even an overture by, say, old friend and former Wells Fargo pro-am partner Michael Jordan – at whose wedding Woods was a guest this past weekend – may not be enough to lure him back to the Charlotte area someday.
On a course that should suit his game but has yielded twice as many missed cuts as victories, perhaps this decision shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s a creature of habit – and if his habit becomes skipping this event, we may remember last year’s MC as his final trip.
• We might be seeing less of Tiger.
Sure, Woods added the Honda Classic and Greenbrier Classic last year, but he’s a player who makes frequent tweaks to his swing, fewer tweaks to his equipment and even fewer tweaks to his schedule.
If, as stated above, legends such as Jerry West and Michael Jordan can’t persuade him to tee it up in PGA Tour events in their hometowns, then what chance does a mere mortal tournament director have in wooing him?
All of which brings us full circle to that initial hypothesis. Now that Woods has moved past the More Reps Era, it wouldn't be a surprise to see less of him between the ropes on a regular basis.
Not that it should be perceived as anything negative. Increased confidence in his game affords him the luxury of not feeling like he needs to play more competitive golf. Unlike that famous drop from a few weeks back at Augusta National, dropping this event from his schedule doesn’t come with a penalty.