A big two weeks for Woods
That time is not this week at Quail Hollow.
And it probably won’t be the following week in front of the party crowd at The Players Championship.
The Masters was the safest place for Woods to return from golf after perhaps the swiftest and most spectacular downfall ever by a sporting icon. Augusta National is synonymous with good manners. People go to watch golf. But while it was his first public display of golf, no other tournament in the world (except for maybe the Tavistock Cup) is so private.
That’s what makes Quail Hollow such a big test.
The tournament is a sellout – even some of the caddies couldn’t scrounge up tickets for their friends – and these tickets were sold to general public. Security has been beefed up, as expected. Even that won’t keep someone from saying something stupid during the five hours or longer that Woods is on the golf course.
Are we back to normal?
Not when the PGA Tour sends out a notice that TV crews can begin setting up two hours before Woods’ interview at 12:10 p.m. Wednesday, and that print media can be seated 30 minutes before Woods speaks (which is the same time Masters champion Phil Mickelson is to hold his press conference).
And not when the tour limits the number of seats in the interview room and inside-the-ropes passes for each media outlet. That wouldn’t have happened a year ago. It might not happen a month from now.
Woods tees off Thursday at 7:40 a.m. on the 10th tee with British Open champion Stewart Cink and two-time major winner Angel Cabrera. That means he will be making his way along the “Green Mile” at Quail Hollow – as brutal a finishing stretch as there is in golf – on Friday afternoon when the crowd is gearing up for the weekend and has had plenty of refreshments.
Eventually, the attention will be mostly on his golf.
Cink began preaching forgiveness in December even before Woods confessed to extramarital affairs. He is hopeful that having one tournament out of the way will allow Woods, and those watching him, to get back to golf.
“It’ll be a different crowd, but I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of unruliness,” Cink said. “I don’t know if that’s optimistic or what. That’s just what I think is going to happen. I think people love watching Tiger Woods play golf. All that other stuff that’s happened, people have forgiven him. And why not? We’re supposed to forgive.”
Forgive and forget?
That might be asking too much.
The best tonic for Woods is playing golf because that’s what attracted so many people to him in the first place. It would help even more if he were to win, and he showed how close he might be with a tie for fourth at the Masters, despite not having played in five months. Still, even a victory pose in a red shirt won’t erase five months of sordid revelations.
Such is the price Woods will have to pay for his reckless behavior.
“Now every one of you has good reason to be critical of me,” Woods said when he spoke to family and friends in his first public apology at the TPC Sawgrass in February.
Woods goes back to Sawgrass next week for The Players Championship, the same clubhouse where he showed his face for the first time since running his SUV over a fire hydrant and into a tree on Nov. 27, setting off this sex-laden saga.
He will not be in the Sunset Room, set aside for corporate hospitality that week. He will be facing a crowd that celebrates misery, which is why so many of them camp out around the island green 17th hole on the Players Stadium Course.
Tee times are supposed to be random on the PGA Tour, although if a player winds up on the same end of the draw – either early on Thursday and late on Friday, or vice versa – a mechanism kicks in that allows officials to swap it around.
Woods hasn’t played enough for that to happen, although don’t be surprised if he winds up playing Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, meaning he would face the 17th hole at a benign hour.
It will be another step in his recovery, win or lose.
There will be more tournaments in different locations – the Monterey Peninsula, Philadelphia, Ohio, Britain, Boston, Chicago. Even as the attention shifts more toward his golf each time he tees it up, the past still will be fresh in those markets.
The Masters was a good start, and not just his score.
Yes, Woods was caught swearing by the TV mikes and flung a club from his hands. He was defensive in his TV interview after the final round, which received more attention than the effort he made to be more attentive to fans.
If anyone was expecting Woods to have a personality overhaul in one week, it was only because he set himself up for failure by saying he would change. Give that time. It’s best to measure progress when the year is over.
Woods was anxious about the reception he would get at Augusta, relieved when he heard the warm applause.
More uncertainty awaits at Quail Hollow.
“I don’t think it will be any more of a big deal than usual,” Cink said. “We’ll see. I guess I’ll see.”
Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust
While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):
7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood
Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.
8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka
There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.
8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau
Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.
12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An
Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.
12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau
There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.
Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?
We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.
Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.
I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.
That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.
In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.
My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.
Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.
It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.
So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?
We hope it isn’t his back.
Or his neck.
Or his knees.
Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.
Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.
Competitively, it’s all that matters.
Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.
We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.
Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?
The game soars to yet another level with that.
A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.
So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.
The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.
They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.
They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.
Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.
And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.
The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.
Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.
For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.
There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.
Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.
Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work
NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.
"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.
Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.
Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.
Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener
Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.
Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.
A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.
The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.
"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."
The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.
Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.
Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.