Tiger Comes First

Tiger Comes First

Tiger Woods has won his last two events.
Fred Vuich/SI

Now we know.

In an oft-played commercial meant to hype the FedEx Cup, Tiger Woods asks a portrait of Bobby Jones about his chances in the new season-ending championship. The portrait doesn’t actually speak, but he sends a sign: a guy wearing a tiger costume walks past, implying that Jones thinks Woods will win.

Of course, we also assume that Woods, given this prediction and his presence in the commercial, actually plans on showing up. Apparently not. While we were watching the guy in the tiger outfit, a classic red herring, Jones must have whispered “stay home,” because Woods opted to do just that, announcing today on his website that he won’t play in the Barclays because he’s physically and mentally drained.

The aftermath is nothing short of a disaster. The Tour is attempting to change its entire business model, and this is the first tournament ever in the four-event playoff series. Tiger’s decision to blow it off sends a message to everyone — other players, sponsors, fans — about how unimportant it really is. If he returns for the last three weeks and still wins the cup, a distinct possibility, it won’t make everything all right. It would only reinforce the original message and exaggerate it. “Told ya it’s no biggie to skip the Barclays.”

Tiger has begged every columnist in the country to ask: In what other sport can you skip a quarter of the playoffs and still win? If the FedEx Cup survives, which is not a given, the Tour should reconfigure it so that no player can win if he skips a playoff tournament. Otherwise the entire thing stands to become a joke.

The killer is that part of the reason behind the remaking of the schedule was Woods’s lobbying for a shorter, more compact season. He was consulted during the planning stages and gave the entire program his approval (although he was and still is unhappy about the $10 million first prize being a deferred payment). To turn his back on it now damages the entire undertaking.

No doubt the new season creates a busy summer for the top players. Starting with the AT&T National on the Fourth of July weekend and running through the Presidents Cup in late September, there are nine important events in 13 weeks (AT&T, British Open, WGC-Bridgestone, PGA Championship, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, BMW, Tour Championship and Presidents Cup). But Woods’s claim of being too drained to play is bunk.

NFL players who win the Super Bowl play 19 or 20 games over 21 weeks, and that doesn’t even figure in the hell of training camp. NASCAR drivers take to the track 36 times in 41 weeks, living on the road most of the year, committing to three or four days of testing and practice each week and often volunteering to drive in Saturday afternoon Busch Series races as well. If they lose their concentration, they could die.

And Tiger can’t play nine golf tournaments in 13 weeks? Come on. He may not feel like it, but he could do it. Fifty-seven PGA Tour members who played in the Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship also qualified to play the Barclays. Fifty-six of them will be there.

If there was ever a time to suck it up, this was it. In skipping the Barclays, Woods didn’t just turn his back on a singular event. He turned his back on a chance to make a statement, to signal to the world that this new thing, which was tailored to benefit him and the other top players in the world, is good and exciting and worthwhile. The timing may not have been convenient for him, but sometimes when you’re the No. 1 player in your sport and a global icon, you have to take one for the good of the game.

Of course Tiger could have eased his burden by skipping the AT&T, but that is run by his agency, IMG, has his name attached to it, and benefits his foundation. He also could have skipped the second playoff event, the Deutsche Bank, which would have been less noticeable because it wasn’t the inaugural tournament. But that tournament also benefits Woods’s foundation.

Given a choice between doing what’s good for the Tour, his fellow players and the sport in general, Woods put his personal interests first. Whether that’s the cause or effect of succeeding in an individual sport like golf is uncertain, but because Woods is so virtuous in so many other aspects of his public life, we hoped we could expect more from him.

We can’t. Now we know.