Tiger, Tiger, Tiger: Three thoughts about Tiger Woods on the eve of the Players

March 13, 2019

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. — Three Tiger Woods quickies here on the eve of the Players. It’s an event he has won twice; once in March (2001), once in May (2013).

1. Tiger’s prodigious, but imperfect, memory

One of the odd pleasures of a Tiger Woods press conference is the chance to see his memory in action.

On Tuesday, he was remembering a Jack Nicklaus poster he had on the wall of his childhood bedroom in Cypress, Calif., in the mid-1980s. That poster is actually a significant part of Tiger’s lore. The legend of that poster is that it showed the age at which Nicklaus won each of his 20 major titles, if you include his two U.S. Amateurs. Woods addressed a common misconception on Tuesday (as he has at least once before, in a 2017 Time interview with golf writer Lorne Rubenstein).

“The timeline that I had showed the first time [Jack] broke 40, the first time he won a state amateur, the first time he broke 80 and the first time he won the U.S. Amateur. And that was it. It had nothing to do with his professional career.

“I was about 11 or 12, when I really started to play a little bit more golf, and I looked at those things. And I said, ‘If he’s the greatest of all-time, then it would be nice if I was a little bit ahead of his schedule, according to those little tidbits.’ And I was able to beat all of them at the relative ages.”

He also remembered the “better-than-most” bomb he made on 17 in 2001, but discounted its importance because it was on Saturday, and also because “I think I was still behind Jerry Kelly at the time.” He was. He didn’t scratch his head to come up with Jerry Kelly’s name. It was right there.

Woods also remembered the difficult conditions of the 1999 Players, when David Duval won with a score of three under par. “I believe I shot 75-75 on the weekend and moved up,” Woods said. He did shoot 75-75, for a T-10 finish. He opened 70-71, which had him tied for seventh, so he didn’t in fact move up. But it wasn’t like his 150 weekend sent him into oblivion, as it typically would.

Tiger Woods is looking for his first Players Championship title since 2013.
Getty Images

2. Possession is 9/10’s of the law

Tiger Woods has become a far more active participant in the time-honored, athletic-contest activity known as “signing.” Tuesday afternoon, after a long session on the back of the range and with the putting coach Matt Killen, Tiger went over to a rope line and signed about 30 autographs for a group of kids.

“I don’t sign balls,” he said, as he went down the line, signing programs, flags and some photos. One kid showed him a Nike golf ball, stamped with Tiger’s name. Tiger smiled at the kid and said, “Hey, that’s one of mine!” He made no effort to reclaim it. The smile was worth more than the signature, depending on how you value these things.

3. His next start

All of Tampa wants to know if Tiger will be playing in the Valspar next week. Tiger has indicated that he plans to play in the Match Play in Austin in the last week in March, which will almost surely be his last event before playing in the Masters, which begins on April 11. Last year, he finished second at the Valspar and that was the first time he could really have known that he was capable of playing world-class golf again.

He has praised the course and the tournament, but there’s only one way he’s going back this year, and that’s if he misses the cut at The Players and has no physical issues. That’s an unlikely combination. He will be done with his second round at about 1:30 p.m. ET on Friday. Players have until 5 p.m. ET on Friday to commit to the following week’s tournament. He won’t be making a game-day decision here, but a Friday-afternoon one.