ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Among regular PGA Tour events, Bay Hill is the only stop Tiger Woods has never missed.
His PGA Tour schedule has become as predictable as azaleas blooming at Augusta National in April. It doesn’t require a Ph.D. in statistics or even a crystal ball to figure out where he will play. And considering how his last eight months have gone, there is not much guesswork involved in how he will play.
Woods has seven official victories since July, and the one time someone else hoisted the trophy, Woods was runner-up.
A couple of years ago, Ernie Els tried to motivate himself by stating publicly a three-year plan to replace Woods at No. 1 in the world. Asked about that after the Big Easy won the Honda Classic a few weeks ago, he smiled and said, “I didn’t realize that Tiger was going to win 10 times since I said that.”
He could have picked where Woods might win.
Woods will be going for his fifth title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He opened his 2008 season by winning the Buick Invitational for the sixth time. He also has six victories in the Bridgestone Invitational, six more at the World Golf Championship that now goes by the name CA Championship.
He has four green jackets from the Masters, four Wanamaker Trophies from the PGA Championship.
Woods, perhaps more than any other golfer, is a creature of habit.
He has won 63 times in his PGA Tour career, yet he has trophies from only 24 tournaments. Vijay Singh has a far more diverse record, winning 31 times at 23 different tour events.
What inspires Woods is the competition and the course.
“For a while now, I’ve said my game has improved since 2000, and it’s not just about the Ws,” Woods said on his Web site. “It’s something I’ve been saying internally, and until recently, no one picked up on it. … I’m playing in fewer events on the toughest courses against the best fields. That’s why I feel my game has progressed, and why I feel so good about all the hard work I have put in.”
Woods won nine times in 2000 while playing 20 events. He won seven times last year in only 16 tour starts.
Then again, familiarity certainly helps.
Consider another statistic that illustrates how his schedule works in his favor. Woods has won 52 times at the 17 tournaments tentatively on his 2008 schedule (that doesn’t include two victories at Doral, which has been merged into a WGC).
One thing about Woods as he gets older – he doesn’t add events, only subtracts.
The first to go was the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, which he won in 2000 and stopped playing after 2002. It will be interesting to see if Woods returns before the 2010 U.S. Open. Then came the Mercedes-Benz Championship, the EDS Byron Nelson Championship and Disney, none of which he has played since 2005, all of which have combined to add five victories to his account.
The most recent subtraction was his hometown event, the Northern Trust Open at Riviera, which Woods played nine times without winning. There is no indication he will return.
It would be easy to suggest he only plays the courses on which he has had success, but that’s true for everybody. Jack Nicklaus won 73 times in his PGA Tour career at 37 different tournaments, although the schedule looked much different in the 1960s, before Nicklaus and Palmer led a revolt that created the PGA Tour.
Everything Woods does, everywhere he plays is geared toward getting ready for the majors.
Where does that leave everyone else?
In a clear case of the haves and have-nots, two tournament directors were standing next to each other near the putting green Tuesday morning at Bay Hill.
One was Steve Timms, who is making all the right moves for the Shell Houston Open.
Timms helped Houston snag the week before the Masters, and Redstone will be set up this year with fast greens and collection areas, appealing to players who want to compete before going to Augusta. Among those planning to play are Els, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and defending champion Adam Scott.
That would be a strong field, the envy of many tournaments.
But it won’t have Tiger.
“That’s the first question I get asked,” Timms said. “The reality is, Tiger has set his schedule and he’s had tremendous success. Everyone would love to have him. We hope someday he’ll change his mind. But we’re going to do everything we can in areas we can control.”
The other tournament director was Kym Hougham of the Wachovia Championship, where Woods is the defending champion.
Hougham is blessed with a good date (the week before The Players Championship) and a great course at Quail Hollow. Woods heard so much about it that he began playing in 2004 and only skipped the year his father died.
“We’re fortunate our golf course attracted him,” Hougham said.
Hougham has lived on the other side of the tracks. He was the tournament director of the John Deere Classic, where Woods hasn’t been since he lost to Ed Fiori in his third tournament as a pro. Hougham sympathizes with tournaments that don’t get Woods.
“It’s a dwindling opportunity because of the majors, the WGCs, and now the playoffs,” Hougham said. “It’s like in college, when you have requirements and electives. We’re the electives. And there are lot more requirements now.”
The four majors, three WGCs, three playoff events and The Players Championship take up 11 spots on Woods’ schedule. There has been only two additions to his schedule since 2002 – Wachovia and the AT&T National, his own tournament.
Otherwise, he plays against strong fields on strong courses. Mostly, he plays where he wins.
So far, it appears to be working.