- By Dave George Palm Beach Post Sports Columnist
Tiger Woods has yet to commit to play in next week’s Honda Classic, and it’s difficult to know in these last few days before the deadline what will drive his decision.
If he misses the cut at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles, which begins Thursday, will that be motivation to tee it up quickly at PGA National next week in order to get in as many competitive rounds as possible in the run-up to April’s Masters?
Or say that Tiger plays great in L.A., logging 72 highly competitive holes without pain or even significant soreness in his surgically-repaired back. Would that make him think that a week of rest during the hometown Honda Classic would be wise, not wanting to tempt fate and overdo it?
Either option makes some sense, but good luck getting an answer. During a Tuesday interview at the Genesis Open site, a reporter tried by asking Tiger what still needs to happen before he decides on the Honda.
“Just not to feel sore,” said Tiger, “and to feel like I can play all-out again with three days off. To be able to go at it full-bore again. That’s something I’ve been trying to do at home (in Jupiter), trying to simulate rounds where I go full-bore at it, but it’s never the same as in a tournament.
“I try to get myself as fired-up as possible, to hit shots as hard as I would in a tournament or shape shots and do all the weird things I like to do, but it’s just not the same. It would be a great sign if I do (play the Honda Classic) but I think it would be a smart sign if I didn’t play. How about that? Did I dance that dance pretty good?”
He’s in or he’s out, one way or the other, by Friday night. PGA Tour rules allow a player until 30 minutes after the completion of his second round to commit to the following week’s event. Since Tiger is scheduled to tee off at 3:02 p.m. ET on Friday in Los Angeles and competitive rounds can last up to five hours, Honda Classic Executive Director Ken Kennerly may be watching his cell phone until 8:30 or so that night, looking for good news.
“We’re ready for him and the community is ready for him,” Kennerly said.
Makes a big difference what Tiger decides when it comes to the number of spectator buses needed and the tonnage of concession stand products ordered. He last played the Honda in 2014, when a Saturday 65 was followed by a withdrawal because of back issues in the middle of Sunday’s final round. It’s still kind of all or nothing with him after all this time, even after a solid tie for 23rd place a couple of weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego.
The timing is a bit unfortunate here, and that was evident the moment the 2018 PGA Tour schedule was announced, with the Genesis and the Honda on consecutive weeks. Because his TGR Live management group runs the Los Angeles tournament, and because Tiger’s charitable foundation is the beneficiary, he was sure to play in that one if at all possible.
What works in the Honda’s favor, however, is the fact that only a few Tour events remain between now and the April 5-8 Masters, which Tiger has repeatedly identified as his ultimate target.
Because he has slipped to No. 550 in the Official World Golf Rankings because of injuries, Tiger is ineligible for a couple of World Golf Championship events in Mexico and Texas. That leaves the Honda, the Valspar Championship near Tampa, the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Orlando and, immediately preceding Masters week, the Houston Open.
Would it kill the Honda to miss out on Tiger again? Hardly. There’s another top field headed to Palm Beach Gardens, just like always, and the tournament’s reputation was further enhanced last year with a highly popular champion in Rickie Fowler.
My guess is we’ll see Tiger here, though, and Fowler, his frequent offseason playing partner in practice rounds at The Medalist, seems to think so, too.
“I’m hoping he’s playing next week,” Fowler said Tuesday during a promotional appearance at PGA National. “This is a place he can play well. He’s been one of the best at controlling his golf ball, and that’s what you’ve got to do around this place. It’s great to see him healthy and pain-free, where he can go out whether we’re playing Medalist or at his house and he’s just having fun.
“I remember a time in the fall when we played. I had to get back to work out and we had just finished playing 18 holes. He went back out to go play another nine. In the last 8-9 years, you hadn’t seen that. Any time he’d been out, he was kind of fighting through, just trying to get enough work in, dealing with some sort of pain.”
It’s been a long road back, which makes this decision on playing consecutive tournaments on opposite ends of the country so important, but here’s another tidbit from Tiger on Tuesday that accentuates his growing confidence.
“Once I get in contention, I can handle myself,” Tiger said. “I just need to get there.”