Tiger at Sawgrass? My money thinks so

Mark McGowan

Tiger Woods (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Speaking after his final round at the Genesis Invitational last Sunday, Tiger Woods was very non-committal about his schedule moving forward. He wanted to play the four majors, he said, but wasn’t even willing to drop a hint that he’d be teeing it up elsewhere.

Tiger’s always been reticent regarding his schedule, leaving it until the last minute to announce his intent to play, usually waiting until just before the entry deadline the Friday before the tournament. At the Waste Management Phoenix Open, several PGA Tour players only found out that Woods had entered when they were being interviewed after their rounds, including Jason Day – one of the players Tiger’s closer to on the PGA Tour circuit.

It’s become a rhetorical question at this point, but regardless of the situation, the media always ask Woods if he thinks he can win. And the answer is always the same – he wouldn’t be there if he didn’t.

I believe him. Why wouldn’t he think he can win. There were 120-odd players in the field at Riviera and at least 110 of them thought they could win. Did he believe he could? Absolutely. Did he believe he would? Well, that’s a very different question. If you’d offered Tiger a T45 finish, that he’d swing (relatively) freely throughout, and that he’d shoot a better score Saturday and Sunday than he had on Friday, I think he’d have taken it.

But that was his first competitive start since he hobbled over St. Andrews’ Swilken Bridge to finish nine shots outside the cut-line at the Open Championship last July. Would he take a T45 finish at Augusta? Definitely not. He wants to win, believes he can win, and would settle for nothing else.

But he needs the reps. Even for the greatest player that’s ever lived, there’s a big difference between zipping around Medallist with a couple of hundred bucks on the line and playing championship golf against the best players in the world. If Tiger’s to have any chance of winning a 16th major and a sixth Green Jacket in April, he needs to have at least one more competitive start in the meantime.

That leaves only two real options, The Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, or the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass. The API is only a fortnight removed from the Genesis, so that’s probably a little too soon, but the Players is a week later, and four weeks before The Masters.

Without knowing the extent of the rehab and how long it takes before he can get back to extensive practice, if he’s adding an event then it really has to be The Players. TPC Sawgrass might not be Tiger’s favourite course and, from a preparation point of view, very different from Augusta National, but it’s one of the easiest walks on the PGA Tour circuit. Not to mention the boost that it would give the PGA Tour to have the game’s star attraction at their flagship event.

In the ongoing bout with LIV, the PGA Tour have edged the recent rounds. Dean Burmester, Danny Lee and Brendan Steele are hardly the marquee signings we were promised, though Thomas Pieters’ addition is a coup, but their season-opener at Mayakoba this weekend has flown somewhat under the radar when compared to the global attention garnered by the Genesis and Tiger’s inclusion.

The Players Championship is always big news in the golf world, but add Tiger Woods to the mix and it’ll dwarf the pre and proceeding LIV events even further.

But though he’s firmly in the PGA Tour’s corner, it’s not Tiger’s fight. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan will have his fingers crossed, but we saw enough from Woods at Riviera to know that he’s still a player first and a Tour ambassador second. He’ll pick the schedule that’s right for his body, and his major aspirations.

If the former allows it, the latter depends on another start.

I’m betting we’ll see Tiger at Sawgrass.

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