Perhaps the idea of traveling across the globe right now was simply not very appealing. Or the period of rest and recovery from a long season of golf was not complete. Maybe he’s not a big fan of the Sheshan International course.
There are myriad reasons why Tiger Woods could be skipping this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
But the point is this: Woods had a choice whether to play the World Golf Championship event.
Add it to the list of reasons why Woods’ 2018 season was so wildly successful. He won the Tour Championship, finished second in the FedEx Cup, contended at two major championships, and is ranked 13th in the world.
And he can choose his schedule, including the World Golf events, which a year ago he was not eligible for.
It is a good problem to have, and one that Woods will be tackling in the coming days and weeks as he plots his 2019 schedule.
“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods, 43, said last week at Pebble Beach, when asked a question about it during a clinic he was giving on behalf of his foundation. “Flying out here yesterday, trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”
Before taking a few educated guess as to where Woods will play, here are few pretty obvious predictions:
The major championships will be the focus. Three of the venues — Augusta National (Masters), Bethpage Black (PGA) and Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) — are all courses on which he already has major wins. Woods will again put plenty of emphasis on those events and build his schedule around preparing for them.
He will play less. The 18 official worldwide events he played this year were the most since he played 19 in 2013 and 22 in 2012. Going back to 2006, Woods played as many as 18 events only four times before this year. It was remarkable he played that many this year, but it was clear at the Ryder Cup that it took a toll. Look for him to cut back to 16 or 17.
Forget three in a row. Woods did that during the FedEx Cup playoffs, and he was sluggish at the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies before a tie for sixth at the BMW Championship, where he opened the tournament with a 62. At that point, Woods was in the midst of five tournaments in six weeks, and would add the Tour Championship and Ryder Cup for seven out of nine. With only three playoff events in 2019, expect that to be the only time Woods plays three straight.
No-cut events are key. If Woods wants to reduce his schedule, playing the tournaments where he will automatically get points — both FedEx and World Ranking — is important, more so in regard to the FedEx Cup playoffs. He has the potential to play four such tournaments before the playoffs.
So here is a look at what seems likely for Woods in 2019, assuming he has elected to forgo any fall events before The Match next month with Phil Mickelson and the Hero World Challenge in December. (The RSM Classic in Sea Island, Georgia, would still be a remote possibility.)
Sentry Tournament of Champions (Jan. 3-6)
We got so used to Woods skipping this tournament (he hasn’t played it since 2005) that we stopped considering it. And while it remains somewhat of a long shot, the possibility exists because Kapalua is a place where he has won, it will have a limited field, and it is one of those places where he will earn easy FedEx and World Ranking points. The field will be fewer than 40 players.
Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 24-27)
Woods’ traditional launching point, it still makes sense as a place to begin the new year. He’ll have had plenty of time off following the Hero to regroup and prepare for Torrey Pines, where he has won eight times. The decision: Play in Hawaii and skip Torrey? Play them both? If so, he’d have two weeks between starts on either side.
Genesis Open (Feb. 14-17)
Woods’ foundation runs this event, so there is no question he will be at Riviera, where he missed the cut this year.
WGC-Mexico Championship, (Feb. 21-24)
Not a given, but it makes sense for the same reason that the Tournament of Champions does: a limited field, no cut. But what it probably rules out is him playing his hometown Honda Classic. That is not an easy decision. Does he skip Mexico to play Honda? Does he play three in a row?
Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 7-10)
This is why the thought here is that Woods will skip Honda. If he plays his hometown event, one way or another, he is looking at playing three straight. And it’s hard to see him skipping Bay Hill, where he has eight victories and tied for fifth this year.
Players Championship (March 14-17)
The new schedule, which has moved the Players up to March from its May day, has caused all kinds of havoc for the Florida swing and is why Woods could very well skip two tournaments he played last year: Honda and the Valspar Championship. If you go by the theory that he won’t play three in a row, he all but has to skip Honda and Valspar — whose only chance appears to be if Woods elects to skip the Match Play and ends his preparation for the Masters in Florida.
WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (March 27-31)
Woods has yet to play the Match Play with the round-robin format, which assures him of three rounds. There is precedent for him skipping the tournament when eligible, and so much depends on if he prefers to play one of the Florida events instead. The good news-bad news scenario for Woods is the assured FedEx and ranking points, but the possibility of playing seven matches over five days if he is successful enough to get that far.
Masters (April 11-14)
Woods is looking at playing six or seven events before the Masters, which is a week later in 2019, after playing five leading into the tournament in 2018. If he plays seven, including Kapalua, and also plays both WGC events, Woods would three times have two-week breaks while twice playing in consecutive weeks, all of which seems reasonable preparation.
Wells Fargo Championship (May 2-5)
Woods traditionally puts the clubs away for several weeks after the Masters, but the new schedule might mean a different approach. With the PGA Championship now in May, Woods is more apt to stay engaged. The Wells Fargo at Quail Hollow is three weeks after the Masters and two weeks before the PGA.
PGA Championship (May 16-19)
Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and tied for sixth there in 2009. Having a week off before the PGA will be new but welcome.
Memorial Tournament (May 30-June 2)
Jack Nicklaus’ tournament has been can’t-miss for Tiger when healthy, and there would be no reason to skip this time. It’s two weeks after the PGA, and two weeks before the U.S. Open.
U.S. Open (June 13-16)
Pebble Beach is the site of Woods’ epic 2000 U.S. Open victory. He is likely to go there having played three events following the Masters — his typical preparation.
The Open (July 18-21)
Woods traditionally plays one event between the U.S. Open and The Open, but there is a strong possibility he will not do so in 2019. The Quicken Loans National, run by his foundation, is no longer. The tournament has moved, and he’s unlikely to follow Quicken Loans to Detroit. Unless he were to play the Travelers Championship for the first time or the new event in Minnesota, Woods appears headed to a break between Opens. He did that in 2013 (elbow injury) and tied for sixth at Muirfield. You could also see him getting in some early work at Royal Portrush, where he has never played.
WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational (July 25-28)
This will be an interesting decision for Woods, as the new event in Memphis offers an opportunity for FedEx points but also puts him in position to play five of six weeks to end the season, including the week after The Open — which he has never done.
The Northern Trust (Aug. 8-11)
The first of three playoff events is at Liberty National, where Woods tied for second in 2013. The top 125 qualify. The only way Woods skips this is if he is firmly entrenched in the top 5 in FedEx points. Even then that is unlikely.
BMW Championship (Aug. 15-18)
The second playoff event is at Medinah, where Woods won the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championships (and where the U.S. lost the 2012 Ryder Cup). It is for the top 70 in FedEx points.
Tour Championship (Aug. 22-25)
If he qualifies by being among the top 30 in FedEx points, Woods will not be defending a traditional tour title. The new format of the event calls for a strokes-based bonus system that will help crown an overall FedEx champion but not a separate tournament winner.
What this 17-tournament schedule does not account for is the possibility that Woods is enticed with an appearance fee to play overseas. The European Tour has yet to announce its 2019 schedule, but Middle East events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have invited Woods in the past. That could alter things for him in January. And there is a possibility that he plays either the Irish or Scottish Opens as preparation for The Open in July.