Lack of starts may have big implications for Tiger

Tiger Woods plays to win.

He has been explaining this ambition in pre-tournament news conferences and post-round interview scrums for close to two decades now, endlessly insisting that his sole motivation isn't money or acclaim or world ranking points, but the unadulterated satisfaction of vanquishing an entire field of his peers. He has said these words so often that Nike built a marketing campaign around them.

If his main motivation remains winning -- and there's no reason to believe it doesn't -- he might want to heed a little advice.

Woods should play more tournaments.

This is all based, of course, on him remaining healthy and motivated. It's contingent upon him being able to be away from his children during non-traditional weeks, an additional variable about which he hasn't been shy.

Friday's announcement that Woods will compete in the upcoming Players Championship comes on the heels of his failure to qualify for next week's WGC-Cadillac Match Play, which was hardly a shocking development.

At 106th in the current world rankings, the man with 18 career WGC victories similarly isn't qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August, which he's won four times; at 195th on the FedEx Cup standings, he isn't yet qualified for the FedEx Cup playoffs, where he's won three of the four season-ending events.

Woods is an unabashed creature of habit. Once a tournament finds its way off his calendar, he rarely returns. That makes trying to predict his impending schedule fairly, well, predictable.

After the Players, he'll tee it up at the Memorial Tournament -- a fact that tournament host Jack Nicklaus already has acknowledged. He'll play the U.S. Open two weeks later, of course, and there persist rumors that he will return to the Greenbrier Classic prior to the Open Championship. From there, he'll compete in his own Quicken Loans National and the year's final major, the PGA Championship.

That's potentially seven more starts through the end of the summer, which would give him a total of 10 for the year, including one withdrawal already. And then? Nothing, maybe.

If Woods fails to qualify for the Bridgestone or the FedEx Cup playoffs -- and granted, that's still a very big if -- this could easily be another lost season, seemingly over before it ever really got started.

In order to garner those opportunities later in the year, he might need to add a few events to his schedule in hopes of accomplishing the end goal. It's a strategy we've seen from just about every other professional golfer over the years, but a rarity for Woods.

Then again, it's not unprecedented, either. Earlier this year, Woods played the Waste Management Phoenix Open for the first time since 2001. So maybe we could see him return to an AT&T Byron Nelson Championship or an RBC Canadian Open -- events which were long ago crossed off his annual list.

In the murkiness of his return at the recent Masters Tournament, where for one of the first times in his career the phrase "moral victory" served as suitable analysis of a T-17 result after a nine-week layoff, there was still a sense of disappointment from him afterward. Even when Woods proclaimed that he was proud of his performance, the sentiment was tinged with dejection, as if thoughts of what might have been were aimlessly rattling around in his mind.

I've long held the belief that Woods understands his game, his swing, his physical well-being and his schedule better than anyone else. He's earned the benefit of any doubt.

If all of that works in his favor, though, it could lead to further success.

It's simple logic, really: If his sole ambition is to win titles, playing more frequently offers him more opportunities. Not just at those specific events, though, but as a way of playing in more tournaments down the road.

Adding more starts would give him more chances to make more starts, which only looks like a Catch-22 if you view it from a glass-half-empty perspective.

If Woods remains intent on winning as much and as often as possible, then perhaps we'll see him compete in a few of these tournaments. It might sound like an admission that he's playing to boost his money figures or world ranking points, but that's what is needed in order to claim more late-season opportunities.

The other option is to just start winning golf tournaments. He'll have that chance starting in two weeks at TPC Sawgrass and at least a handful of other times. Like that Nike marketing campaign screamed: Winning takes care of everything.