Tiger Woods’ absence is hanging over Players Championship: ‘Heartbeat of golf’

There’s as much talk about Woods not playing the Players Championship this week at TPC Sawgrass as there is about the stars who are here — beginning with defending-champion Scottie Scheffler, who’s fresh off his second Arnold Palmer Invitational victory in the past three years.

 

Woods was widely expected to be in the field this week. That would follow the natural progression of his stated plan, which was to play one tournament a month, including the major championships.

 

 

 

Woods was forced to withdraw from the Genesis Invitational last month at Riviera with a bout of what he called the flu, being driven off the course in the middle of his second round.

 

He was well enough to play in the annual prestigious Seminole pro-member nine days ago — paired with PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh and striking the ball extremely well, according to a report by Brad Faxon, who was also in the field.

 

Yet, when the deadline came and went Friday for the Players Championship field, Woods’ name was nowhere to be found.

 

And we have heard nothing from him one way or another — not that he owes anyone an explanation.

 

It is, however, unconventional for him to head into next month’s Masters (assuming he’s going to play that, because with Woods you never know) having played less than a round and a half of tournament golf.

 

 

Woods last played the Players Championship in 2019, shortly before his historic Masters victory in April of that year. Technically speaking, his eligibility to play in the Players has only one year remaining, 2025, based on his Masters win in ’19 that gave him a five-year exemption.

 

Woods’ wins at the Players in 2001 and 2013 don’t automatically qualify him into the fields in the future.

 

 

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan was asked Tuesday if there would ever be a “special’’ category that would allow past champions like Woods into the field so he can play whenever he wants.

 

“I think you all know Tiger well enough to know that he wants to earn his way into every competition,’’ Monahan said. “That’s his makeup.’’

 

Xander Schauffele on Tuesday was asked if he misses having Woods in the field.

 

“He kind of had a rough go for a little bit with his body and everything, [but] if there’s anyone that’s going to talk about putting their head in the sand and find some way to win another golf tournament, I would imagine it’s going to be him,’’ he said. “So, being his competitor, I pull for him pretty hard. He’s kind of the heartbeat of golf, in my opinion, and any time he tees it up it’s a spectacle.’’

 

 

Patrick Cantlay added, “Anytime he plays, we’re all better for it. I know he’s working as hard as he can to be healthy and be able to play, and so I hope we get him out here as soon as possible for as many events as possible.’’

 

 

Scheffler — who’s ranked No. 1 in the world, a spot Woods once held for a record number of weeks in his prime — said he can’t wait to see Woods play again.

 

“I wish I had a crystal ball and I could tell you how many of those [tournaments] we had left,’’ Scheffler said. “He’s definitely the best player I’ve ever seen, and I think he’s the best player we’ve ever had. Anytime you can stand up there and walk alongside him and compete in the same golf tournament as him is really special.

 

“I’ve had the pleasure of playing with him at the Masters a couple years ago. It was the day he made the 10. He’s just so much different than the rest of us. He’s won so many golf tournaments, and he makes a 10 on No. 12 at Augusta, and he birdies five of the last six holes, and it’s Sunday. I mean, it’s completely meaningless to him; like at that stage in his career, what’s the point?

 

“And for him just to step up there and completely turn it around … I kid you not, he hit still to this day, three of the best iron shots I’ve ever seen hit coming into those last few holes, and it was just unbelievable to watch. Anytime that we can get him out here competing and playing, I think it’s really special for all of us.’’

 

That moment, though, will have to wait — likely for another few weeks when the world waits for him to turn up at Augusta.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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