JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – For a snapshot of where Tiger Woods’ game is at the moment, consider the Frys.com Open. It was the first time in more than 12 years that he played all four rounds of a full-field tournament and failed to earn any world ranking points.
One reason is he tied for 30th, recovering from a bad start with three rounds of 68. A larger reason is the field at CordeValle was the third-strongest in golf last week - behind the Madrid Masters and Korea Open - that it only doled out points to the top 29 players.
It was only the 10th time in his career that Woods played an entire tournament without getting world ranking points.
The most recent occasion was last year at Firestone, with a limited field, when he tied for 78th out of 80 players. Otherwise, go all the way back to his tie for 56th at the 1999 Bay Hill Invitational for the last time Woods went four rounds and received no points (he also was shut out at the International that summer, but failed to qualify for the final round).
So what does it mean?
In the short term, he dropped to No. 52 in the world and will remain out of the top 50 for at least five more weeks until he plays the Australian Open, which is shaping up to have a strong field.
In the long term? That’s more difficult to gauge.
He said his goal last week in the Fall Series event was to win, although that was his goal when he made his pro debut at the Greater Milwaukee Open in 1996 and tied for 60th. Woods also said he made progress, that he “got better every day.”
Indeed, there was a stretch of about four or five holes on Friday and Sunday when Woods produced some palpable energy with his golf, only to settle into mediocrity and lose his momentum. Even so, he finished 10 shots out of the lead.
In the seven stroke-play tournaments that he finished this year, the closest Woods came to winning was at the Masters, where he wound up four shots behind Charl Schwartzel. Other than that, he was never closer than seven shots of the winner (Dubai, Bay Hill) and CordeValle was the third time he was at least 10 shots out of the lead.
Not even Woods was sure where he was.
“It’s getting there,” he said. “It’s a process. I don’t know what the end is. That’s one of those things when the career is all said and done, then you know. But I’m in the midst of it, and I know I’m getting better, and that’s the tough part.”
CHASING THE MONEY (TITLE): Webb Simpson will have to finish in at least 15th place alone at the McGladrey Classic to earn enough money to move past Luke Donald atop the PGA Tour money list.
Simpson is $68,971 behind and decided to add another tournament with hopes of winning the money title.
The money title is important to Donald because he has a chance to become the first player to lead the money list on the PGA Tour and European Tour in the same season. Players have to be members of both tours to be counted on the money list.
Donald can see why it’s important to Simpson, too.
Winning the money title on the PGA Tour comes with a five-year exemption. Even though Simpson has won twice this year and now is exempt for the next three years, a year ago he didn’t have his card locked up until the Fall Series.
“So for someone this time last year who was struggling to keep his card, that might be very appealing,” Donald said a few weeks ago.
Donald, meanwhile, hinted he could play in next week’s Disney tournament, the last stop on the schedule. He is waiting to see how Simpson fares at Sea Island before deciding what to do.
DUSTIN AND GARY: Dustin Johnson and Gary Woodland have been friends since they were amateurs. They first played a practice round in college and have remained close. It’s only a coincidence that they’re two of golf’s best athletes.
Woodland played on a traveling baseball team as a teenager until his father urged him to narrow his choice of sports. He also spent one year playing college basketball before realizing his future was in golf. Johnson was profiled in a recent PGA Tour commercial dunking a basketball, swimming and doing other athletic endeavors.
It was an impressive display - except to Woodland.
“Yeah, yeah, I’ve seen all that,” Woodland said when asked what he thought of the commercial. “I’ve seen it once. That was enough.”
Someone asked Woodland who would win in a game of “horse.”
“I’d kill him,” Woodland said.
What about one-on-one in basketball?
“I’d kill him,” Woodland said again.
As for the dunk by Johnson on the commercial?
“On a small goal,” Woodland replied. “That ain’t no 10-foot goal.”
Was there anything in the commercial that Woodland could not do himself, if not better? This time, Woodland paused.
But only for a second.
“I’d need to see the commercial again,” he said. “No. There’s nothing he can do that I can’t.”
This conversation was relayed to Johnson, and it made him break into a wide grin.
“He likes to run his mouth,” Johnson said. “Tell him to bring it. He knows where to find me.”
MALAYSIA MOMENTS: There were a few snickers last year when the PGA Tour announced an unofficial tournament in Malaysia for 25 tour players from the FedEx Cup standings. The joke was the tour would have trouble finding that many from the top 25.
Instead, the Asia Pacific Classic is shaping up to have a field that most Fall Series events wish they could have.
It includes 12 players who have won this year, from Brandt Snedeker to Lucas Glover to Jhonattan Vegas and Brendan Steele. The exemptions went to Stewart Cink, Angel Cabrera and David Duval.
The tournament will be played Oct. 27-30, and several of those players will head over to Shanghai for the HSBC Champions, the final World Golf Championship of the year.
DIVOTS: Ernie Els played for the 21st time this year on the PGA Tour, the most in his 17 years on the PGA Tour. He tied for fourth, his first top 10 of the year. … Rod Pampling was given a sponsor’s exemption to Disney on Tuesday. Pampling started the year without his full card and has moved up to No. 114 on the money list with two tournaments remaining. … While Bud Cauley appears safe to get his PGA Tour card, Sea Island is a big week for Adam Hadwin of Canada. The 23-year-old tied for seventh at the Frys.com Open, which would made him eligible for the McGladrey Classic. He is the equivalent of No. 148 on the money list, and if he can stay in the top 150, Hadwin will be exempt into the final stage of Q-school. … Mark Calcavecchia, Jay Haas and Kenny Perry will represent the Champions Tour in the Three-Tour Challenge, to be played Nov. 8 at Rio Secco in Las Vegas.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Blake Adams has played 32 tournaments this year on the PGA Tour. The only week he sat out when he was eligible to play was the Mayakoba Classic in Mexico.
FINAL WORD: “As long as it’s legal, I’ll keep cheating like the rest of them.” - Ernie Els on using a belly putter.