Tiger Woods’ agonizing decision to stay away from PGA Tour

The sight of Tiger Woods on the golf course — in public, preparing to play in his first tournament in five months — was tantalizing Tuesday at Muirfield Village Golf Club.
The Memorial, which Woods has won five times, begins Thursday with Woods playing in a too-good-to-be-true threesome alongside Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka seeking his PGA Tour record-breaking 83rd career victory.
The Memorial is the sixth tournament on the revised PGA Tour’s schedule after the COVID-19 pandemic paused golf for three months. For the most part, the first five events have been packed with star power, featuring many of the top players — except, of course, Woods, who has been conspicuous by his absence.
After playing the back nine with pal Justin Thomas on Tuesday, Woods conceded that he “did consider playing’’ one of the previous five events “trying to figure out if I should play or not.’’
In the end, though, his thirst for competition and desire to get some needed tournament reps wasn’t enough to draw Woods from the cocoon of his home in Jupiter Beach, Fla., where he spent time with his kids, watched TV and read books.
Woods, too, said he played some recreational golf at his local club, Medalist, the last place he was actually spotted in public playing golf, at the May 24 COVID-19 relief charity match he played with Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Woods looked so good that day, his swing so fluid and unencumbered, it fueled speculation that he might play one of the first few events on the revised schedule.
“I just felt it was better to stay at home and be safe,’’ Woods said. “[I’ve] just been at home practicing and social distancing and being away from a lot of people.’’
Woods said he preferred to “see how the Tour has played out, how they’ve started’’ before returning.
“I feel that I’m comfortable enough to come back out here and play again,’’ he said. “I’m excited to do it. It feels great to be back. I hadn’t played on a tournament venue in a while — it’s been since February — so it’s been a long time for me.’’
February’s Genesis Invitational at Riviera, where he finished 68th and last among the players who made the cut, is the last tournament Woods played in. Citing back stiffness, Woods went on to sit out the WGC-Mexico, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship, three staples on his calendar.
“Physically, I was very stiff at LA,’’ Woods said. “I was not moving that well. [My] back was just not quite loose. It was cold. I wasn’t hitting the ball very far, wasn’t playing very well, and consequently I finished dead last.
“Fast-forward five months later … I feel so much better than I did then. I’ve been able to train and concentrate on getting back up to speed and back up to tournament speed.’’
And that leads to the obvious question: What should we expect this week of Woods, who feels good physically but is five months removed from his last tournament round?
Is winning this week and eclipsing Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record of 82 wins too much to ask?
It should be noted that Woods’ last victory came at the Zozo Championship in October after a layoff of some two months.
“I would like to say that I’m going to win the event,’’ Woods said. “That’s my intent. Whether that plays out come Sunday … hopefully that will be the case. There’s no reason why I can’t do it again this week. I’ve just got to go out there and do my work and make that happen.’’
“I’ve seen Tiger play very well after long layoffs,’’ Memorial host Jack Nicklaus said Tuesday. “You never know what to expect. I don’t think Tiger will be as sharp or as ready as he normally is, but Tiger is Tiger. He’s a pretty darned good player, and my guess is he played quite a bit of golf at home and he doesn’t want to come here and not play well.’’

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