There’s a golf tournament going on this week—an important one. It isn’t a major but it is one that players do care about; in part because they are playing for a lot of money; in part because a win carries a five year exemption on tour (as opposed to two years for other non-majors); in part because it is called “The Players,” and makes the tour a lot of money.
But I’m not sure anyone who isn’t a golf geek really cares that much. Oh sure, the whole world wants to know everything that Tiger Woods does all day, every day. But he could be playing in Charlotte, the way he was last week, or in Milwaukee—where he played his first tournament as a pro—and the same would be true.
There might be a little bit of extra interest in Phil Mickelson because, at least in theory, he has a chance to pass Woods as the world’s number one player this week. If Mickelson wins here and Woods finishes outside the top five, Mickelson will go to No. 1 in the world rankings.
Seriously though, if you aren’t a golf geek, do you really care about that? You might look up and take note of it, but if you stop and think about the fact that Woods has only played in three tournaments this year and his life is a complete mess, what’s the big deal? What Mickelson has done that’s truly important this year is win The Masters.
The next truly important moment in golf will come at Pebble Beach next month at the U.S. Open. If Woods doesn’t play well THERE, a place where he won the Open by fifteen shots 10 years ago, then it will be time to begin wondering if he’s going to make it back close to the level he was at as recently as two years ago when he won the Open while playing on one leg at Torrey Pines.
For now though, all the analysis of his swing and his mindset and his game and his life is kind of moot. As he correctly pointed out after shooting a two-under-par 70 on Thursday, he had only played six rounds of golf this year before arriving at The Players. So, to make any kind of judgment on his game RIGHT NOW, is just plain silly. Sure he was awful in Charlotte last week—all that does is prove that he’s human; that the carnage he has left in his wake the last six months has had some affect on him.
This week there are all sorts of rumors going around that he’s fired Hank Haney, his swing coach. It was the talk of the range on Wednesday and Woods’ denials don’t sound all that convincing. Maybe he hasn’t fired Haney, but technically he never fired Butch Harmon back in 2002. He just stopped working with him during The British Open and hasn’t worked with him since.
There was also a Woods-Haney joke making the rounds on the range on Thursday: “If Tiger keeps working with Hank for another few months, his swing will look like Ray Romano’s.” For those of you who aren’t Golf Channel geeks, Haney is involved in a show in which he is trying to coach Romano to the point where he can break 80. The good news in Charlotte was that one of his clients—Woods—did break 80, shooting 79 on Friday.
What is remarkable to me is the continuing fascination with all things Tiger. Maybe nowadays it is just people rubbernecking at the scene of a car accident but no one can seem to take their eyes off of Woods—regardless of how he’s playing or what he happens to be doing. Vanity Fair just came out with a SECOND story on Tiger’s various trysts (the first one did some serious damage to Mark Steinberg’s, “I know nothing,” claims not to mention to the late Earl Woods) and people are acting like the news that Woods is getting a divorce is going to be news.
It will be, sort of along the lines of tomorrow being Saturday.
On Thursday, I was on The Golf Channel set as part of their, “Live From,” show. We went into a break and the plan was to come back and talk about, I think, Vijay Singh, who has dropped to No. 42 in the world and could actually be in jeopardy of dropping out of the top 50 between now and May 23d—which would knock him out of the U.S. Open for the first time since 1994.
Suddenly, mid-break, the producer’s voice came into our ears saying, “Change of plan guys. We have video of Tiger walking in from the parking lot so we’re going to that.”
Yup, Tiger walking in from the parking lot. Look, I get why Golf Channel wants to cover every move he makes. It is what people want to see. I may have written this before but Tommy Roy, who has produced golf on NBC forever, once told me that a survey he’d seen showed that more golf fans would prefer to see Tiger Woods leaning on his bag than another golfer hitting a shot.
Last week in Charlotte, with Mickelson in contention, with Rory McIlroy playing a spectacular round of golf, ratings on CBS were down 37 percent from a year ago—when Woods was in contention. To we golf geeks that’s unfathomable. I sit here looking at the names in the field here at ‘The Players,’ and I can literally find 100 stories I find interesting. Most people would have little interest in at least 99 of them.
The Players, as I said, is a big-time tournament. But if Henrik Stenson defends his title or if my buddy Paul Goydos somehow wins or if Jim Furyk wins—or if any of the 154 players in the field not named Woods or Mickelson wins—very few people will remember two weeks from now who the champion was in 2010.
But they’ll know there were Tiger Woods-used golf clubs on E-Bay this week. There’s no sense rolling our eyes about any of that, it’s just the way of the world. It was before November 27, 2009, it is now and it is going to be for a long time to come.
Tiger may not be the hero he used to be but he’s still the guy no one can take their eyes off.
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and will be in bookstores nationwide May 13th. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases