Coulda Woulda Shoulda


Chevron World ChallengeTHOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The room was empty, save for the random busy work of tournament week. It was 1:45 p.m. (PT) and what should have been the center of the golf universe, if not the apex of an intense 15 minutes, was as sparse as Charlie Wies’ head coaching credentials.

Instead of surreal, the scene was subdued. Thirty seats – as if that would have been enough for the fourth estate circus that would have descended on this posh community 45 minutes north of LAX – sat empty. A single microphone remained silent. The cart barn turned media center at Sherwood Country Club, the place that just over 13 hours earlier had a “ground zero” feel to it, suddenly was cold and quiet.

What could have been. What should have been.
Tiger Woods billboard
A billboard promotes a Tiger Woods return that won't be happening. (Getty Images)
No, we’re not talking about a potential Tiger Woods mea culpa. Truth is that wasn’t going to happen this week in these California hills or in two months amid the California hills just south of here when he likely returns for the 2010 season at Torrey Pines. To Woods, privacy is much more than simply a name etched into the back of a yacht.

Padraig Harrington, perhaps the PGA Tour’s most forthright, offered the best, if somewhat ambiguous, comments on the fender bender that rocked the sports world last week and Woods’ subsequent withdrawal from this week’s Chevron World Challenge.

“I’m like every other person. You get drawn into it. We are intrigued by other people’s lives I guess,” Harrington said. “But I’ve been on the other side and you realize how far from the truth you can get in situations like this.”

But this “situation,” as it applies to an event that stands above all others during the game’s “silly season,” is that for the second consecutive year the host with the most will not be playing for his own trophy.

A season that should have been celebrated at Sherwood, if not for Grand Slam accomplishments than for consistency and tenacity given the uncertainty of Woods’ return from knee surgery, will now come and go with all the intensity of . . . well, a Skins Game.

Sure there are world ranking points on offer, a first for an event not offering official winnings. Sure there are 14 of the top 25 players in the world to take Woods’ place, but as players marched in and out of the converted cart barn there was just one question that anyone seemed interested in asking.

“Want to know what they are going to ask you?” Harrington smiled at Lee Westwood as he made his way to the interview room.

Will Woods be missed this week?

“I think there will be a lot of disappointed people,” Westwood said. “I’m sure Tiger Woods himself will be disappointed. An event means a bit more when he’s playing.”

There was a measure of closure for Woods on Tuesday. The Florida Highway Patrol pulled the plug on its investigation of the car crash that has turned Orlando’s Isleworth community into a punch bowl.

“It was a four-helicopter day at Isleworth,” said fellow Isleworth resident John Cook of last Friday’s media frenzy at the gated community.

Never has there been so many talking about so little. Careless driving, a ticket and $164 in fines are the answer to the strangest episodes.

For the folks at Sherwood, there will be a tournament played this week, or so the rumor goes.

Maybe it’s best Woods’ injuries forced him to skip the Chevron, otherwise a stellar event for a first-class charity would have been background noise to a media buzz that would make cicadas sound angelic.

According to tournament organizers there are normally about 150 requests for media credentials at the Chevron. That number was doubled for this week’s event prior to Woods’ Monday WD. But on Tuesday, the converted cart barn was more than half empty, or half full depending on your point of view.

Officials offered refunds to ticket holders, and tournament director Greg McLaughlin said 2 to 3 percent normally cash in on those types of rebate offers. Given the intensity of this week’s gathering, that may be a low estimate.

Chevron is now 0-for-2 in the Tiger lottery. The company took over title sponsorship last year when the most famous left knee in the game was still mending. Now this.

“Chevron is very supportive,” McLaughlin said. “Clearly they would have rather he be in the field but they respect his decision.”

This time Woods is again on the mend from his injuries sustained during last Friday’s car crash, to say nothing of the blows he continues to take in the mainstream and entertainment media, and the converted cart barn is quiet.

The golf world has been dragged into something entirely foreign and the Chevron is collateral damage. A refugee of circumstances.

All that remains now is an empty interview room. What could have been. What should have been.