Tiger’s Sawgrass no-show raises further questions about his Masters chances

Mark McGowan

Tiger Woods sporting the Sun Day Red brand (Photo: Sun Day Red)

Mark McGowan

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“I think that best scenario would be maybe a tournament a month, I think that’s realistic.

“We have that set up right now, the biggest events are one per month. It sets itself up for that. Now I need to get myself ready for all that. I think this week is a big step in that direction.”

Those were the words of Tiger Woods ahead of the Hero World Challenge back in December, with the 15-time major champion preparing for his first tournament appearance since limping away from Augusta National midway through the third round in April.

More than three months later, besides a run around the Ritz-Carlton for the PNC Championship alongside son Charlie and with daughter Sam carrying his bag, he’s teed it up just once, withdrawing from the Genesis Invitational after 25 holes citing influenza.

Hard as it is to fathom, Woods will head to Augusta – assuming he actually does – with even less competitive reps than he had last year. Nobody really expected him to tee it up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, even though it’s a tournament and a course that he used to feast at, winning eight times in the space of 13 years. Those wins came prior to back fusion and subsequent surgeries, of course, and the thick rough and hacking-out often required there mean it’s no surprise that he’d steer clear of that old stomping ground, but TPC Sawgrass is a different story.

Relatively flat to walk and a golf course that tests every skill facet, if he harboured any real hopes of being competitive at Augusta National – and he’s always claimed that he wouldn’t play if he didn’t – then surely he’d be better placed to do so with at least 36 holes at Sawgrass under his belt.

Maybe his body’s not ready. Such is the cloud of secrecy that surrounds anything Tiger-health-related that he could have gone under the knife again and we’d never know, but assuming he hasn’t, the idea that a potential four rounds this week would be too much to hope to adequately recover from and arrive down Magnolia Lane at 100 percent wouldn’t bode well for anything other than token major appearances going forward.

As the new vice-chairman of PGA Tour Enterprises, maybe his attention is more focused on the business side of the game, but for the most notoriously single-minded player the game has ever known, if that’s the case, then the transition from player to boardroom operator is virtually complete.

And if that’s the case, then why the smoke and mirrors about returning to competition at the Genesis Invitational and the ‘one event a month’ declarations?

Well, there are several possibilities on that front.

One is that he genuinely believed it possible and fully intended to do so, but subsequent findings have caused him to reconsider.

Another is that, as tournament host, he knows that his name in the field gives his event so much more juice than it does without. He played last year, he made the cut on the number and he didn’t come close to finishing last among those who saw weekend action, so had hoped to do so again and the illness which forced him to withdraw was sudden in onset.

But the cynical side of me – and one I hope is wrong – has this sneaky suspicion that I just can’t dismiss. That side wonders if the primary reason he was there was to launch and be the lead marketer for his Sun Day Red clothing brand, and actually playing competitive golf was playing second fiddle.

The legendary competitor he is, that can’t be true, can it? The irony of his ‘WD’ at Riviera is that we never got to see him wear his Sunday red in Sun Day Red. Had he worn red on Thursday then my cynical side would have gone into overdrive, so even at my most suspicious, I’m willing to concede that that’s the tin foil hat talking.

But still, golf has never been about taking part for Tiger Woods, it’s been about winning, about setting records, about writing his name into the sports’ annals and about pushing the boundaries beyond what we all thought was possible.

Yet even the most ardent Woods fan has to concede that making the cut at Augusta – his 24th in his last 24 attempts which would be a new record in itself – is the most we can hope for. If there was anything better on the table, we’d have seen him this week.

But he’s made a career out of doing the impossible, and impossible is what he’s facing.

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