Judging from the scorecards he turned in, Tiger Woods doesn’t have much to celebrate when he blows out 45 candles on his birthday December 30.
Because his troublesome, fused back acted up and COVID-19 turned the world upside down, Woods made just nine official starts on the PGA Tour in 2020 – and didn’t contend in a single one of them.
It was a surprising, disappointing campaign, especially since Woods was coming off a spectacular 2019 when he won his fifth Masters and 15th major championship, won the Zozo Championship in Japan to tie Sam Snead for the most victories in PGA Tour history – that would be 82, by the way – and then was the best player in the 2019 Presidents Cup in the Land Down Under as he captained the red, white and blue to victory.
But his 2020 journey alongside Father Time’s unrelenting march was more in step with a lost year as Woods tumbled down the officials world rankings – he’s currently ranked No. 41 after beginning the year at No. 6. The fall was steady as he registered just one top-10 finish in those nine starts – a tie for ninth in his first start of the year at the Farmers Insurance Open.
In the tournaments he circles immediately on his calendar when an upcoming new year arrives, he was less than stellar. In his Masters defense, he tied for 38th. He missed the cut in the U.S. Open. He tied for 37th in the PGA Championship. In other words, he basically was in hibernation in his pursuit of the Golden Bear’s record 18 major championships.
At times throughout the year he was lethargic and never got Big Mo on his side. He unleashed far too few fist pumps and was frequently frustrated as most every part of his game let him down far too often.
“I haven’t put all the pieces together at the same time,” Woods said ahead of the Masters. “Whether it’s, I’ve driven it well and hit my irons poorly. Or I’ve put the ball-striking together, and I haven’t putted well. And then I’ve had it where I’ve putted it well and I’ve hit it poorly.
“It’s just been, I haven’t put it together at the same time.”
But one tournament had Woods beaming – the PNC Championship where he teamed with his 11-year-old son, Charlie. The little one stole the December show as Team Woods shot 62-62 to finish seventh, five shots out of first place. Photos and videos of Charlie exploded across social platforms as his mannerisms mirrored his father’s traits and his swing and overall play awed all onlookers.
“It was incredibly special for us to have the opportunity to spend the quality time we had,” Woods said. “It’s memories we’ll have for our entire lives. He’s not going to appreciate this at 11 years old. As the years go by, you start appreciating it more.
“I’m sure that we’ll have a lot of banter over the holidays and the years to come.”
A silver lining emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic for Woods – he and Charlie bonded on the golf course. With safety guidelines in place to battle the virus, Woods could only play with family members at his golf club, The Medalist. Yes, Woods’ palatial Florida estate is home to a three-hole practice area in the backyard, and the two have had many a contest back there, but at the outset of the pandemic, Charlie and Tiger became frequent playing companions.
The golf bug took hold of Charlie, Woods said, and the youngster’s game improved by the week. In the PNC Championship, Charlie made his first eagle and gave his proud papa plenty of moments to cheer and smile. Perhaps Charlie will provide a consistent spark for Woods to practice and play a tad more ahead of tournament starts in the upcoming year, to up the reps, so to speak.
But because of age and injuries, Woods, as he has often said, can’t put in the long hours of training and practicing as he does everything he can to limit the physical toll. It’s often a difficult balance – practicing enough to be sharp enough to play and contend without practicing too much where he can’t play.
And he can still play. Woods had spurts of good play in 2020 that reminded us that it’s too soon to write him off. He still has his hands and plenty of speed, remains one of the best ball-strikers in the game, still outthinks most and his competitive fire is still lit.
While his trying 2020 is in his rearview, COVID-19, despite the arrival of vaccines, and his tender back are still concerns heading into 2021.
In his pursuit of a 16th major and a record 83rd PGA Tour title, Woods will play no more than 18 times. With history as a guide, Woods likely will make his first start of the year in the Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 28-31), which he has won seven times (he also won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines), and his second start in the Genesis Invitational (Feb. 18-21), which benefits his TGR Foundation.
Pencil in the four majors – the Masters (April 8-11), PGA Championship at Kiawah Island (May 20-23), U.S. Open at Torrey Pines (June 17-20) and the Open Championship at Royal St. George’s (July 15-18). Tack on The Players Championship (March 11-14) and the Memorial (June 3-6).
In his ramp up to Magnolia Lane and the Masters, he could play the WGC-Mexico Championship (Feb. 25-28). However, if it’s played or relocated, it falls the week after the Genesis Invitational and Woods rarely plays back-to-back weeks.
If he bypasses the Mexico Championship, he could play the Arnold Palmer Invitational, which he’s won eight times. But that’s contested the week before The Players. He’s also eyeing the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas (March 24-28). But he has to be in the top 64 in the world rankings to be eligible.
The guess here is Woods will play at most five times ahead of the Masters. After the majors, Woods could make a start in the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis (Aug. 5-8) and if he’s qualified and healthy, he would play in all three events of the FedEx Cup Playoffs which begin in August.
In the fall, he could head to Japan for the Zozo Championship (no date has been set). In December, he’ll head to the Bahamas for his Hero World Challenge.
There’s also the men’s golf tournament in the Summer Olympics in Tokyo (July 29-Aug. 1), though Woods are far down in the qualifying standings.
And the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straights in Wisconsin (Sept. 24-26) could be on his plate. Woods is 17th in the standings, with the top 6 automatically making the team. Captain Steve Stricker will fill out his squad with six discretionary picks.
Depending on the future of COVID-19 and his back, as well as his playing form, Woods could play as many as 16-18 events. Here’s hoping many of them will be like the one he spent with Charlie in the PNC Championship.
original article link https://golfweek.usatoday.com/2020/12/30/tiger-woods-birthday-45-what-next-2021/