Woods Still Casts Long Shadow

THOUSAND OAKS, CALIFORNIA | Tiger Woods still is the man, even if to some he’s no longer The Man. He’s gone three-and-a-half years without a major. He’s had lifestyle problems. Yet no one in golf – including that kid Rory – has Woods’ presence.
Tiger remains the game’s single most important individual. Remains the name that, even when he can’t fill the cup with putts as in an earlier time, continues to fill grandstands with spectators. And at his own event, the World Challenge presented by Northwestern Mutual, filled the small field with stars, players such as Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson.
The World lost its title sponsor – Woods went into his own wallet for more than a couple million to keep the purse respectable, although it was reduced to $4 million from last year’s $5 million – and every round was played in gloomy, rainy weather.
No matter, the fans came – mostly to watch Tiger try to win for a sixth time.
This is the way it was the third round, when Graeme McDowell continued to lead, and Keegan Bradley, still using the long putter, which almost certainly won’t be allowed in 2016, was a close second.
After Woods and Rickie Fowler, two groups behind the leaders, walked off the 18th green at Sherwood Country Club in the Santa Monica Mountains, at least two-thirds of the fans walked off the course.
Elvis had left the building, so why stay?
The real question is whether the World, previously the Chevron World, before that the Target World, will be staying.
The tournament, in its 14th year, was created by Woods and his late father, Earl, to fund the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has provided education for 100,000 kids. One of those is Edgar Perez, who credits the learning center for academic success – he’s about to enter Reed University – and in a talk to tournament players and guests had Steve Stricker tearing up.
“We’re going to do everything we can to keep the tournament going,” Woods told The Associated Press, “and keep our programs going.”
The other side is there’s a $1 million first prize (when Woods wins he donates the whole thing to his center) and a chance for the pros to get in one more 72- hole event before the holidays.
This time, of course, since the USGA announcement on anchoring putters came the Wednesday of the tournament, there were numerous questions tossed at Webb Simpson (he’ll go short when he feels comfortable) and Bradley (no immediate plans to change).
Bradley, who said he feels as if the USGA has marked an X on his back – better than an X on one’s card, certainly – has received dozens of Tweets, some nasty, some humorous. Saturday, Bradley said he heard someone call him a cheater, “which was no fun.”
Even Tiger kidded him on a practice green at Sherwood, so Bradley snatched Woods’ putter and made three of four 10-footers. It’s the puttee, not the putter.
The World is not an official tournament but neither is it part of what once was labeled the “Silly Season.” The world ranking points accumulated are the same as those from a Tour event, and as McDowell, the Northern Irishman, never tires in reminding, as a last-minute fill-in for Tiger in 2009, his second-place finish helped him advance to the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, which he won.
McDowell, who in the preceding weeks had been to Dubai twice (the second time he proposed to fiancée Kristin Stape), China and Australia, showed up this year a bit jet-lagged but still effective.
“It’s just been a golf course that has always fit my eye, great backdrops, nice undulations,” said McDowell of Sherwood, which snakes through canyons near the area where the old M*A*S*H TV series was filmed. Sherwood has five par 5s and five par 3s.
“It’s just a fun course to play,” said McDowell.” I always have fun here. And you know, I think I’m always in a fairly relaxed mood here because I’m off the back of five weeks on the road, and I’m very glad to be back on U.S. soil, you know, which is kind of home soil for me nowadays.”
His American locale, not surprisingly, is near Orlando, where his restaurant-bar is to open in the new year. McDowell will take off for 10 weeks, until the Northern Trust at Riviera, bringing a question to how he would occupy his time.
“Try and stay out of the bar as much as possible,” he said. A bar owner who won’t visit the bar? “That’s a valid point,” he conceded.
Another valid point is Tiger Woods, who will be 37 in a matter of days, remains committed to finding the game he lost and winning another major or two.
“Rory (McIlroy) is ranked No. 1,” said Tiger of the golfer who wasn’t at the World Challenge. “He deserves it. He should be very proud of the season he had. I’m excited about next year. I feel I have some of my best golf to play.”
Who knows? Maybe just wishful thinking. But the possibility of Tiger Woods going against Rory McIlroy down the stretch in a Masters or U.S. Open is delightful just to contemplate.
That would be a real world challenge.

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