Pre-Masters schedule likely different for Tiger
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Depending on which route of travel you take, it's approximately 8,424 miles from San Diego to Dubai, giving Tiger Woods plenty of time to ponder how to rebound from one of his worst performances on the golf course.
As he begins play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week, Woods does so with the knowledge that another break from golf is forthcoming.
While it might seem strange that a six-week hiatus followed by two tournaments and then another four-week absence from competitive golf is something to cherish, it is also part of golf's new reality.
With a season that lasts virtually all year, players, especially the top ones, are looking more and more to find extended breaks throughout the year. With the expectation that Woods will skip the WGC-Accenture Match Play in February, it appears he will take a month off after this week's tournament at the Emirates Golf Club. He likely will not play competitively for three or four weeks following the Masters, too.
And then, it's pretty much all-out through the early part of October.
"The year basically gets pretty congested starting at the British Open," Woods said Wednesday following his pro-am round in Dubai. "I take [the week of the Canadian Open] off but then it's Firestone (WGC-Bridgestone), then a week off, then all four playoff events, and then for the Americans there's a Ryder Cup or a Presidents Cup every year.
"And now with this new wraparound schedule [on the PGA Tour] going on, I think we're all trying to get our heads literally wrapped around it and trying to get a feel for it. It's very different."
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Woods apparently will bypass the WGC-Match Play, which he has won three times, for just the third time. He missed it in 2001 when the event opened the schedule in Australia, and he did not play in 2010 when he took the first four months away to deal with personal issues.
This absence probably should not be a surprise. There was considerable conjecture about Woods missing the tournament when it was believed he would accompany Olympic champion skier and girlfriend Lindsey Vonn to the Sochi Olympics. Even though she won't be competing after all because of her most recent knee surgery, Woods has lukewarm feelings about the course at Dove Mountain outside of Tucson. Since the tournament moved to the current venue in 2009, Woods has never advanced past the second round and twice was knocked out on the first day.
Perhaps more important, however, is he's simply pacing himself. And he's not alone. Adam Scott is in the midst of a six-week break, for example. Graeme McDowell won't play his first event of 2014 until next week at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Steve Stricker, who played a limited schedule last year, won't tee it up in his first event until the Match Play in mid-February.
There are so many good tournaments, so many opportunities throughout the year, that it's easy to take a pass even on a big event with guaranteed money such as the Match Play.
Woods is scheduled to head from Dubai to Delhi, India, for a corporate exhibition.
After that, he'll have three weeks to get ready for what appears to be his run up to the Masters: the Honda Classic, followed by the WGC-Cadillac Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational -- the latter two where he will defend titles.
At the turn
The Omega Dubai Desert Classic is the 122nd official European Tour event as a pro for Tiger Woods. He has missed just one cut (last year in Abu Dhabi) and has 40 victories. Of course, 32 of those wins also count on the PGA Tour, as major championships (14) and World Golf Championships (18) are official events on both tours.
They are brothers in the Nike stable, and even prior to that had struck up a friendship, despite a 14-year difference in age.
But Rory McIlroy admits that he'd still love nothing better than a back-nine tussle with Tiger Woods, especially in a major championship.
"Of course that excites me," McIlroy said this week in Dubai, where he is playing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic during the first two rounds with Woods and helped open a Nike Golf store at the Dubai Mall. "I grew up dreaming of a scenario like that, taking on Tiger down the stretch of a major. Taking him on down the stretch of any tournament, in fact.
"It hasn't quite happened yet. We have sort of been in contention a few times without having a battle. You always want to put yourself against the best and Tiger has been the best at this game the past 15 to 20 years."
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Perhaps the closest they came was at the 2012 Honda Classic, where McIlroy got a scare on the final day from Woods, who shot 62 but came up a shot short and tied for second.
Later that year, Woods was in the mix at both the Deutsche Bank Championship and BMW Championship, tournaments that McIlroy won. Another was the 2012 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, where McIlroy finished second to Robert Rock while Woods was a shot further back.
"It's great to have him here," McIlroy said of the Dubai tournament, where the Northern Irishman captured his first professional title in 2009. "He got off to a bit of a slow start to the season, so he will be wanting to make up for that this week. I think he has still got a few good years left, so I am looking forward to battling with him a few times."
1. Scott Stallings. His victory at the Farmers Insurance Open was his third in four years and earned him an invitation to the Masters.
2. Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard won a playoff at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters, his second victory in three starts, to move to No. 9 in the world rankings.
1. Tiger Woods. The 79 on Saturday at Torrey Pines was among his five worst rounds as a pro and sent him to his worst finish ever at the Farmers, a tournament he has won seven times.
2. Phil Mickelson. After expressing optimism about the coming season, Mickelson was felled by a back issue that forced him to withdraw from the Farmers; the hope is that it's a temporary intrusion on his season.
3. Torrey's course setup. January seems too soon for the U.S. Open, but the conditions sometimes seemed like that was the goal.
Although the conditions last week at Torrey Pines might have been a touch too difficult for an early-season tour event, they did remind how stout a venue the South course can be if necessary. Which also reminded us: Why has the U.S. Open not returned?
After the success of the 2008 Open, won by Tiger Woods, the lack of summer rain, near perfect temperatures and a community that supported the event, a return seemed inevitable. But the USGA apparently is not that enamored of the place and has passed on several opportunities to return. A logical spot seemed to be 2018, but that tournament has been awarded to Shinnecock Hills -- an understandable choice, but one that still leaves Torrey Pines out.
Perhaps the PGA of America will get involved in bringing its major to Southern California. The PGA has not been to a West Coast venue since 1998. It's hard to ignore Torrey Pines.
After his victory at the Farmers Insurance Open, Scott Stallings moved from 114th to 53rd in the world and has assured himself a spot at the WGC-Accenture Match Play ... Stallings was the first player to win in 2014 who had not already received an invitation to the Masters. He also assured himself of spots in the PGA Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational ... Of the 10 events played so far in the 2013-14 season, six have been won by players under the age of 30: Webb Simpson (Shriners/Las Vegas), Chris Kirk (McGladrey), Dustin Johnson (HSBC Champions), Harris English (Maykoba), Patrick Reed (Humana) and Stallings ... Five players who finished in the top 10 at the Farmers (Ryo Ishikawa, Seung-Yul Noh, Russell Knox, Trevor Immelman and Justin Thomas) are on the alternate list for the Waste Management Phoenix Open. With the field size of only 132, they did not gain automatic entry but will get into the Northern Trust Open field if they fail to get into Phoenix through the alternate list ... The Phoenix event is the 11th of the new wraparound season. Tiger Woods has all of one FedEx Cup point so far ... The Dubai Desert Classic has three of the world's top 10 in Tiger Woods, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy.