COMMENTARY | Red is a pretty important color to Tiger Woods. It's the color he wears on Sundays, the day they hand out trophies and big, ceremonial checks.
It's fitting, then, that Woods is walking a red carpet in New York City instead of laying up in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., ahead of The Players Championship.
Woods and girlfriend-slash-champion-skier Lindsey Vonn are together in the Big Apple for the Met Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That's 800-plus miles away from TPC Sawgrass and its Stadium Course, where the PGA Tour's crown jewel will be played starting Thursday.
Had this been the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship or PGA Championship, Woods wouldn't let the venue out of eyesight. Ahead of the Masters, Woods went into semi-seclusion after winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill, refusing contact with the media and pretty much anyone else so that he could lend maximum focus to his efforts to win a 15th major. It didn't pay off at Augusta National, but that's neither here nor there. Woods gave it everything he had, the best way he knows how to prepare.
Yes, Woods is a 37-year-old man. He certainly can handle a night out on the town -- even at an affair as high-profile as the Met Gala -- and still manage to play golf by Thursday morning.
The world No. 1 has the means to flight in his private jet to and fro, making the fairly short flight to Jacksonville before heading over to the home of the PGA Tour on Tuesday.
None of this is to insinuate Woods can't or won't win The Players this week. He won here in 2001, though he hasn't been much of a factor since the tournament's move to May in 2007. The best in the world already has three wins on the '13 campaign; predicting a fourth wouldn't be much of a reach.
Rather, Woods' night at the museum (hopefully, this will not inspire another film in that series) probably settles once and for all any debate about The Players as the proverbial "fifth major."
The tournament is an excellent one. It's well-run and well-attended. The Stadium Course is an iconic venue, even if the par-3 17th had no water surrounding it. The field is one of the deepest in golf. The purse, at $9.5 million, is the most lucrative in the game.
All of that, however, is not enough for Woods to consider it in the same company as the four tournaments per year that, from here to the end of his competitive days, will be the only measure that matters in determining his legacy.
The majors are what matters to Woods. The math is simple. He has 14 majors to Jack Nicklaus' 18. If he wins five more, then he is the greatest golfer ever. Woods would have 19 major titles, and, even if he never won another non-major PGA Tour event again, he would tie Sam Snead for the most PGA Tour victories at 82.
For all of his domination at tracks like Bay Hill, Firestone C.C. and Torrey Pines, as well as his struggles at places like Dove Mountain and TPC Sawgrass, they ultimately weigh little. That's why Woods can stand to be at the Met Gala or play in the Tavistock Cup in the same week as Arnold Palmer's tournament.
Then again, maybe it would be in Woods' best interest for The Players never to creep into the Grand Slam (or Grand Slam Plus One) discussion. Pete Dye's signature course does not seem to suit Woods well, which he shared in a somewhat-veiled criticism last year.
"Some of Pete's other golf courses are a little bit different, and this one in particular, you have to hit the ball well; and we're all playing to the same spots and then obviously to the same spots on the greens," Woods said.
"You really can't get down there on some of the holes with big drives or anything like that. There's really no room to do that because of his angles."
It's not exactly a ringing endorsement of the course. The distance advantage Woods held over the PGA Tour in his early career rarely materialized that way at Sawgrass. For better or worse, imagination is replaced by prescription. The design and setup democratizes the championship, affording a chance to any player who can shine in all facets of the game.
Woods did say the best player seems to win The Players each year, but the course does little favors to him in identifying him as champion. Tiger took his lone pro title at the Stadium Course a dozen years ago. (He won the 1994 U.S. Amateur at the venue.)
If The Players were to someday become a major , Woods would fall further behind Jack Nicklaus in the major tally. Jack won three of the first five Players, albeit none of them at TPC Sawgrass. That would leave the score at Jack 21, Tiger 15. For now, at least, Nicklaus can't claim an extra major field goal.
Whether Woods wins on Sunday, then, is of little matter. It'd be a pleasant surprise for a man that has exactly one Players top-10 finish since 2001.
No one saw Woods' night out on the town coming, so perhaps it'll be the change of pace he needs to notch a second Players trophy.
Ryan Ballengee is a Washington, D.C.-based golf writer. His work has appeared on multiple digital outlets, including NBC Sports and Golf Channel. Follow him on Twitter @RyanBallengee.
- Sports & Recreation
- Tiger Woods
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- TPC Sawgrass