Will Tiger Woods be cautious with his schedule?
PALM HARBOR, Fla. -- The conspiracy theorists were out in full force as soon as Tiger Woods limped off the course Sunday at Doral, which simply proves that not only is every tournament, every round, every swing analyzed but so is the way he walks.
Woods' Achilles issues turned out to be a strain, and the tweet he sent out Monday night had a positive vibe to it. Perhaps there is nothing more to it than that, and it is quite possible Woods saved himself further aggravation by stopping when he did rather than trying to play through the problem.
But to suggest he quit to spare himself a bad round?
More than a few have made that observation, and, although it is true that Woods was playing poorly -- he was 3 over par at the time -- does anyone really think he would want to endure more injury drama simply because the ball was not going where he intended?
If there is anything we have learned about Woods, he is not too keen on discussing his health. The news about his Achilles and knee injuries that he said first occurred at the Masters were not disclosed until several weeks later -- after he had been on a promotional trip to Asia, where he conducted clinics.
Woods would far rather deal with the fallout of a bad round -- it happens in golf -- than be subjected to the numerous queries he will face about his latest injury and the third time in three years he has withdrawn from a tournament during a round.
Clearly, he has brought some of this on himself. Woods has never been very forthcoming about his injuries, perhaps because he doesn't want to be making excuses, maybe because he feels it's nobody's business. This is hard to understand because, in golf, the opponent cannot take advantage of a player's physical shortcomings, although it could be the mental edge Woods seeks.
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We do know that Woods has had four surgeries on his left knee, the latest of the major variety after his 2008 U.S. Open victory. Much of the focus was on that knee again last year when he disclosed his issues after the Masters.
But perhaps the focus was not on the right place. Maybe it was the Achilles that was bothering him more. It clearly makes walking a chore, and, although it might not affect the golf swing directly, it is quite possible that a nagging issue could become magnified in the course of a round.
The scary thing for Woods is that this might be the new normal. One Sunday, he's shooting 62, eliciting memories of past glory while dreaming about future success. The next Sunday, he can't complete a round because his Achilles is killing him.
Throughout his recent comeback, when his swing rounded into form and he started driving the ball better than he has in years, it often was forgotten that Woods spent several months last summer doing virtually nothing -- not working on his fitness, not working on his game.
"I haven't been able to practice until I got healthy and that's what was exciting about going down to Australia,'' Woods said at his season-opening event in Abu Dhabi. "I was finally healthy enough to practice, and I had not practiced a whole lot after I got hurt at Augusta.
"I missed most of the year, and then to finally be able to get ready for a tournament properly and to do the type of lifting that I think I need to do to be ready, I was finally able to do that; and hence, my game came around, so it's very exciting.''
Now you have to wonder whether Woods is considering being even more cautious with his schedule. Doral was his third straight tournament, and, although he played just two days at the WGC-Match Play, it was still tournament rounds, walking. Much of Woods' practice is done from a golf cart, with the cardiovascular work accomplished off the course.
"He was being smart,'' Woods' agent, Mark Steinberg, said Tuesday. "He didn't want to put the Masters in jeopardy. If it was 10 years ago, he might have played and made it worse. What does he tell you guys all that time? That he wants to try and peak four times a year.''
Woods has withdrawn from tournaments just five times in his professional career dating to 1996, and one of those was when he failed to show for the completion of a rain-delayed event months later. One was because of illness. The latest three have been because of injury, and the past two have related to the same problem area -- his left leg.
That hardly suggests someone trying to avoid posting a poor number.
It's more like trying to avoid the problems of last year, which have to be painfully fresh.
You would be hard-pressed to find an existing tournament on the PGA Tour schedule that has had more title sponsorship woes than this week's Transitions Championship. The tournament came into being in 2000 after a mixed-team event staged at the Copperhead course at the Innisbrook Resort ceased after the 1999 edition.
From that point on, it has been an adventure for the local organizing group that runs the event. No title sponsor has stayed on for more than one contract, and those sponsors have been Buick, Chrysler, PODS and now Transitions, a local optical company that is not renewing its four-year deal that expires after this week's event.
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That leaves the tournament in a precarious position -- again. These tournaments simply don't exist without the financial backing of a title sponsor, which pays in the neighborhood of $7 million a year just to cover its share of the purse and required television advertising expenditures.
The shame of it is the tournament is played on one of the better venues the players see all year. A GolfWorld magazine survey of players had the Copperhead ranked ninth -- the only Florida tour course among the top 10. One of the courses ahead of it is Augusta National, and two -- Aronimink for the AT&T National and Shaughnessy for the Canadian Open -- are not in use this year. Others ahead of Copperhead are Pebble Beach, Riviera, Colonial and Hilton Head.
So, the players love it, but scheduling is often influenced by other factors, and following two World Golf Championships in three weeks has not helped this tournament.
That said, Transitions has attracted four of the top 25 in the world, including No. 2 Luke Donald, 11 of the top 25 and 22 of the top 50. Those numbers are on par with the Honda Classic and likely will be better than those of next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Ty Votaw, executive vice president of the PGA Tour, said the tour's first priority is to find a sponsor to keep the tournament at Innisbrook. Other possibilities -- such as having the Puerto Rico Open step in (it is opposite Doral with a smaller sponsorship obligation) or moving something such as the Valero Texas Open into this date -- certainly will come up.
But Votaw cautioned that, with any move like that, other issues arise. Puerto Rico would have to find a title sponsor willing to pay full price. If the Texas Open moves, the tour would want to fill its April spot on the schedule.
Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.
Birdies And Bogeys
1. Justin Rose. The Englishman survived a wild Sunday at Doral to win for the fourth time in 20 months.
2. Rory McIlroy. He made a good run Sunday at Doral and finished third, meaning he has gone second, fifth, second, first and third in his five starts this year.
3. Ryo Ishikawa. The Japanese star backed up his special invite to the Masters with a runner-up finish at the Puerto Rico Open, moving up to 47th in the world.
1. Tiger Woods. Just when you thought everything was falling into place, he had to withdraw at Doral with an Achilles injury, leading to more doubts.
2. Bubba Watson. Give him credit for that great shot to the 18th green Sunday, which at least gave him a chance to tie Rose. But, with a 3-shot final-round lead, Watson couldn't hit a fairway on the front nine and ended up finishing a stroke back.
3. Phil Mickelson. On a golf course that played relatively easy, Lefty was unable to break 70 at Doral in any of the four rounds, finishing tied for 43rd.
Last week, the Masters gave Japan's Ryo Ishikawa a special exemption, a somewhat dubious invitation in that the 20-year-old phenom has had plenty of opportunities to secure his spot in the field on his own. Ishikawa failed to win last year on the Japan Tour, putting his top-50 ranking in peril, and that meant he had yet to earn a spot. But Ishikawa then finished second at the PGA Tour opposite event in Puerto Rico to move to 47th in the world.
It now doesn't matter for Ishikawa, but, by staying there through next week's Arnold Palmer Invitational, he would have secured an invite on his own. Ishikawa is playing on a sponsor's exemption at this week's Transitions Championship.
The Transitions has 22 of the top 50 players in the world, along with some notable names not in the top 50: Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and John Daly. Masters champion Charl Schwartzel is the only major winner from last year in the field; also in is money leader Luke Donald. Defending champion Gary Woodland is working on a swing change with new coach Butch Harmon, and there have been some growing pains. Woodland has just one round this year in the 60s. Justin Rose, who won the WGC-Cadillac Championship on Sunday, tied for fifth at Innisbrook a year ago. England's Tom Lewis, who was low amateur at the British Open a year ago, is making his PGA Tour debut. Lewis turned pro last summer, won the Portugal Masters and was the European Tour's rookie of the year. Lucas Glover, who won at Quail Hollow last year, is making his season debut at the Transitions after suffering an injury to his knee before the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He sprained a ligament while paddleboarding and has been out since. The LPGA schedule resumes this week with the first domestic event of the year, the Founders Cup, in Arizona. The Champions Tour also resumes, with the Toshiba Classic.
"I've been very focused on just sort of seeing this whole Florida Swing as like a body of work and not really trying to put too much focus on any individual tournament. And I kind of knew I was playing well and if I just kept out of my own way for the most part and kept thinking well and doing the right things, I had a feeling something good might happen in these four weeks; and I'm kind of including the next two weeks, as well.'' -- Justin Rose after his victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.