With only 1 PGA Tour start since mid-February, a forgettable T-40 at Memorial, Woods faces a tall order this week at TPC Harding Park. Then again, he is Tiger Woods, so don’t count him out entirely … just yet, at least
The good Lord willing and the pandemic don’t rise, the PGA Championship will be played on Aug. 6-9 at TPC Harding Park. What was once “Glory’s Last Shot,” is now “Glory’s First Shot.” In musical terms, it is like thinking of Ringo as the Beatles’ headliner – not John, Paul or even George.
But the Masters was postponed, the U.S. Open was postponed and the British Open was canceled, so the PGA will Carry That Weight. These are the times we live in: last is first and first is last.
As always, “top picks” must be made, “those to watch” identified and betting odds set. Bryson DeChambeau and his “Kraken” drives will be high on the list, and in the air. Jon Rahm, recently promoted to No. 1 in the ranking and even more recently dropped to No. 2, deserves star treatment. The likes of new world No. 1 Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka will get their usual due.
In addition, as is the case whenever he plays, Tiger Woods will be journalistically feted. And he is playing … no, really. He’s planning on playing.
Technically, to be fair, it is most appropriate to suggest that the 44-year-old Woods can win. He is, after all, the current Masters champion and, as he demonstrated in “The Match” in late May, he still has chops. Most importantly, as mentioned, he is to be in the field. Only those who are not have no chance of winning.
But the contrast between made-for-TV Tiger and tie-for-40th-at-Memorial Tiger underscores one undeniable aspect of golf, an element some seemed to ignore as they watched Woods be so pure alongside partner Peyton Manning. That is …
It don’t mean a thing if they ain’t counting swings … doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah, doo-wah.
The charity golf Woods played alongside Manning, Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson was competitive only in the way you compete in your Saturday morning round with the fellas. A few brags are made, some dollars are exchanged, and in the end, no one signs a card.
In the televised “Match,” Woods played on his home course: Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla. He played among friends, played alternate shot and four-balls, drove a cart, wore shorts. In the end, Brady had to get pants stitched, Mickelson had to eat crow and Charles Barkley eventually had to stop talking. No one had to sign a card.
Notwithstanding, the press raved about Woods. He wasn’t favoring his back. He didn’t miss a fairway. His motion was silky smooth. Yes, in his previous appearance, in mid-February, he shot 76-77 on the weekend at the Genesis Invitational and complained of back stiffness. But that was then and this is now, and during this fundraising, fun-raising show, he was locked and loaded.
When Memorial arrived, the “picks” came out and Woods was prominent. Although he had not played subsequently for seven weeks – based on that primetime puff – he got “favorite” reps.
Problem was, there was a scoring table at Muirfield Village. They counted swings and took cards. At Memorial, a championship which he has won five times previously, made-for-TV Tiger was a bit more like Genesis Tiger. He wasn’t pure, didn’t contend and didn’t win. Two of his rounds were 4-over 76s, including one on Friday in which his back tightened up. The T-40 was 15 shots removed from the trophy winner, Rahm.
Now, this bizarre 2020 is about to deliver its first major. And following up on that ineffective performance, Woods has not played a competitive round since. He returns in search of a PGA Tour-record 83rd victory after two more weeks off. He returns having played two of the past 12 PGA Tour events, posting finishes of 68th and T-40.
And … he will be touted as one “to watch.” After all, he is Tiger Woods, one of the GOATS, a standard he established, a standard by which he lives. The fact he is aging or brittle doesn’t matter. Reputation is all.
In the background, there is a bigger point, a point with which all who play competitive golf know well, a point blurred by TV lights, a point that separates perception from reality.
Playing golf relaxed, among friends, with nothing to lose, is not the same as teeing it up in a championship. How many times have you gone to the range and striped it, only to stink it up on the course? How many times have you had a terrific recreational round, only to suck eggs in a club championship?
Tiger Woods always will be intriguing at Augusta, legitimately so. Like Jack Nicklaus, Mickelson, Fred Couples and others, he knows how to play that course, the same one they play each year.
But Woods is not who he was in 2005 when he beat John Daly in a playoff for a WGC title at Harding Park. He’s 11 years removed from the 5-0 performance at the 2009 Presidents Cup at Harding. He won’t be partnering with Steve Stricker, and he won’t be playing singles against Y.E. Yang. At the PGA, he’ll be playing against 155 others.
So, could he win the PGA? Yes. If he holds up physically, if the conditions are favorable, if the pandemic don’t rise. He’s in the field. He’s Tiger Woods.
But he won’t be driving a cart, and he won’t be wearing shorts.
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