Lynch: Tiger Woods talks, says nothing, PGA Tour life goes on

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Eamon Lynch
·4 min read
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It’s a sign of both his enduring stature and his ongoing health status that almost every public statement by Tiger Woods is parsed and analyzed with a level of intensity usually reserved for capricious politicians with a nuclear arsenal. Such was the case Sunday, when he joined CBS Sports at Riviera during the final round of the Genesis Open, which benefits his foundation.

Tiger’s would-be interrogator, Jim Nantz, exhibited more staying power than some players on the final-round leaderboard as he gamely tried to coax Woods into offering specifics on his playing schedule as he recovers from back surgery. For his part, the 15-time major winner was as unwavering as ever in making hopeful noises, remaining non-committal, and revealing nothing.

“I’m still in the gym doing the mundane things you have to do for rehab before I can start gravitating toward something a little more,” Woods said.

Those three special words—“a little more”—almost made Nantz visibly drool. So, he purred, what have you managed to do in terms of golf?

Lengthened my putter, Woods replied. He wore the relaxed smirk of one who knew his cat-and-mouse routine would be of more interest to casual fans than the tournament itself, contested as it was by guys who are seemingly more adept at filling their retirement accounts than their trophy cases.

Jim wanted more. “The Masters. … You gonna be there?”

“God I hope so. I gotta get there first,” Woods said, displaying his enviable gift for making the obvious sound ominous. “This is the only back I’ve got. I don’t have much wiggle room left here.”

By now, Nantz was sounding like a Tinder prospector growing impatient with flirting. He asked if Woods planned to play a PGA Tour event before the Masters.

“I don’t know what the plan is,” came the less-than-illuminating response.

“We miss you,” Nantz signed off, falling a ways short of the interview standard set by another CBS legend of Sunday evenings past, Mike Wallace, and perhaps even that of Jessica Fletcher in “Murder, She Wrote.”

In fairness to Nantz, Woods’ interviews often raise opacity to an art form, unveiling few concrete details and serving only to fuel speculation. Drawing conclusions from Tiger’s comments—particularly these comments—is a fool’s errand, but it seems probable that the security team at TPC Sawgrass can expect a more relaxed time of it at the Players Championship in three weeks. There are a few weeks beyond that before a call needs to be made on Augusta National. He might tease us anew before then.

Masters Tournament 2020
Masters Tournament 2020

Tiger Woods during the final round of the 2020 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. (Photo by Michael Madrid/USA TODAY Sports)

All of which isn’t to say that nothing was made clear during the 10 minutes Woods spent in a headset in the CBS booth. It was a reminder of a reality that is uncomfortable for broadcasters, executives and fans: that the PGA Tour is now in the post-Tiger era, that he is a cameo actor and not the leading man. He may still move the interest needle unlike any other golfer, but a weekly soap opera cannot sustain itself on the power of a star who seldom shows up on set.

Tiger is the Marlon Brando of “Superman,” not “The Godfather,” an opportunistic scene-stealer when the script falls his way, but no longer capable of shouldering the entire production of the PGA Tour.

The future of the Tour, right now at least, rests on an ensemble cast rather than a standout star. Actors like Rory McIlroy, Bryson DeChambeau, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson—will carry the show, each adding his own unique spice to the blend. But none of them has grabbed the game by the throat over the last decade in which Woods has receded as inexorably as a melting glacier.

For all the back and forth during Sunday’s broadcast, we remain none the wiser about when Woods might next make a competitive appearance. But whether it comes at the Players or at the Masters or at one of the sundry stepping stone Tour stops along the way, it should be seen for what it is: an occasional gift to be enjoyed rather than a guarantee to be expected.

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