Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tiger Woods needed to be in Greensboro this week

The Wyndham Championship is one of those pleasant tournaments that rarely draws the biggest names in golf, of late because of its positioning right between the PGA Championship and the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. Its recent winners aren't exactly a murderer's row of golf.

But golf is in the midst of a geological shift, and plenty of big names are finding that their games don't quite measure up to their reputations. As a result, they're in Greensboro this weekend, trying to stack up points to get into the FedEx Cup playoffs. Icons like Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas, Padraig Harrington and Justin Leonard are in attendance, each trying to get up over that top-125 cutoff for entry into the first round.

All good and noble in their efforts, yes. And all markedly different from Tiger Woods, who had decided to skip this week's event even before his disastrous performance at the PGA Championship. It's a decision that was curious at the time, and unfathomable now.

Put simply: Given how close Woods is to making the playoffs, skipping the Wyndham was nothing less than a cop-out.

Why? Let's start by rocking some hypotheticals. As poorly as he played in Atlanta, Woods finished the weekend tied for 127th (technically, he's 129th) in the FedEx Cup standings, with 318 points. At this writing, the FedEx Cup projected standings have 339 points as the cutoff for the top 125. That's 21 points, a figure he could have achieved just by finishing in the top 50 at the Wyndham. Last year, the 50th-place player, Troy Merritt, finished 10 strokes off winner Arjun Atwal.

Certainly, a top-50 finish is no slam-dunk for Woods now, and the very fact that I can type that sentence is astonishing in itself. Still, it's a hell of a lot easier than what he'd needed to do heading into Atlanta: finish in the top 14 at the PGA Championship, the major with the strongest field in all of golf.

So why isn't Woods in Greensboro? It's a lower-tier tourney (no offense, G'boro), the kind that Woods historically dodges. Before the PGA Championship even began, he indicated that he wouldn't be playing in the Wyndham because of "family obligations," which sounds all fine and nice and unimpeachable (what, you're going to bust on him for wanting to spend time with his family?) until you dig a little deeper.

First and foremost, while Woods is, like all golfers, an independent contractor, he's in no way a sole proprietor. He's the face of a major sporting corporation with a value well in excess of a billion dollars. His presence in tournaments guarantees a ratings spike, which means his absence costs networks millions of dollars in lost revenue. At a time when the PGA Tour is edging up on a new television contract, the money that Woods is leaving on the table will become a weapon for the networks come negotiation time.

More directly, Woods' absence affects the few sponsors he has left; they pay for his presence shilling their apparel, and he doesn't exactly get much TV exposure when he's behind the walls of his mansion. (Though he could if he wanted to.) Again, Woods isn't holding up his end of the bargain with the companies that have stood by him through all his troubles.

The family issue is a thorny one; surely one can't begrudge Woods wanting to spend time with his children. But tournaments are not 24/7 affairs (sorry, wrong word). And, as a colleague pointed out, Woods certainly makes time during the week for his video game commitments. Still, speaking as a father, there are times when Daddy has to work. This is one golf tournament, leading to at most, four more weeks, not a military deployment. By bailing on Wyndham, Woods torpedoed his own prospects for the rest of 2011 and dealt a body blow to the bottom line of the PGA Tour.

Bottom line: Woods needs to recognize that the old ways are done and gone. He's got obligations and expectations on him now that he didn't have when he was ruling the planet. He doesn't control the narrative anymore.

If he's serious about wanting to get back to the top of the golf world, he needs to recognize, first and foremost, that he's nowhere near there now. By his actions, that hasn't seemed to sink in yet. Until then, his words and his actions remain worlds apart.


Magic Johnson Mario Andretti Mario Lemieux Mark McGwire

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