It was impossible to watch the brief scrum and not appreciate the fact that the soon-to-be-40 year old seemed to be enjoying himself outside of his normal comfort zone.
You know the deal – old cat, new tricks.
But there it was, the 286th-ranked player in the world smiling and laughing and talking optimistically about the week ahead – as if the last two years had never transpired.
Tiger Woods will set out on Thursday at 7:50 a.m. ET at the Wyndham Championship, one of 14 current PGA Tour events that he’s never played, with long odds and an even longer view.
“It’s kind of fun,” Woods smiled. “This is like a small-town atmosphere. [The fans] come out and support the event for years and Davis [Love III] says he’s played this thing forever and even sees the same people each and every year.”
It’s safe to say there will be even more people about Sedgefield Country Club this week thanks to Tiger, who enters the week the lowest he’s ever been ranked as a professional. But then, when it comes to Woods, he is always much more than the sum of his world ranking parts.
Woods signed on to play the final regular-season event because of his spot in the FedEx Cup ranking (187th) and what could only be described as an 11th-hour effort to play the postseason, which begins next week at The Barclays with the top 125 players on the season-long points list.
“I started to build, I need to get more consistent with everything and start stringing together not just holes, not just rounds but tournaments,” he said. “That’s why this tournament is important to me. Hopefully I can win and get in the playoffs and start playing a bunch of golf.”
Given his play the last 24 months – he doesn’t have a top-10 finish and the scorecard includes more missed weekends (10) than not (seven) during that stretch – his chances of a walk-off this week waver somewhere between slim and none. That doesn’t mean, however, his trip to the Piedmont Triad is a lost cause.
For some time, critics have lamented Woods’ schedule, for decades a relatively set lineup of majors, World Golf Championships and assorted top-tier stops where he’d had success in the past, like the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Farmers Insurance Open.
More “reps,” the thinking went, may be the only way to play his way out of his current swoon.
In his own particular way, the Wyndham Championship is Woods’ acknowledgement, however begrudgingly, that the status quo simply isn’t working.
Had Woods not added the Wyndham Championship, his next Tour start would likely have been October’s Frys.com Open to begin the 2015-16 season. That would have been eight weeks of relative inactivity.
Sure, he’d be on the range in South Florida looking for answers, but it has become clear over the past few weeks that whatever it is he is working on back home has been slow to translate to red numbers on a Tour scorecard.
When Woods committed to the Wyndham field last Friday, a procedural deadline required by the Tour, many opined that Sedgefield, a classic Donald Ross layout, would be just what he needed. He could take his driver out of his bag and dissect the tree-lined course with long irons and the occasional fairway wood.
But recent heavy rain in the Greensboro, N.C., area seems to have dictated another plan.
“From what I’ve been told, it’s going to be a lot of irons off the tee but it wasn’t the case because it’s so wet,” Woods said.
But even that soggy reality doesn’t change the fact Woods’ decision to venture beyond his well-defined schedule is encouraging, maybe even inspired.
There seems little chance Woods’ last-minute playoff push will be successful. When asked his motivations for playing this week, he seemed to suggest as much.
“If not, then I got a big break and some overseas stuff to do later this year,” said Woods, who needs to win this week or possibly finish alone in second place to secure a spot at The Barclays. “Basically, I’ll have my offseason early and start getting ready for a lot of my tournaments that I go to overseas as well as in the [United States].”
Woods said last week at the PGA Championship that his focus isn’t necessarily on this season or even this year as much as it is a long-term plan to play his way back into relevance.
His place in the field at the Wyndham Championship is a sign that at this point he knows better than anyone else that playing is his only way out of his current slump.