Considering how Tiger Woods has been inconsistent at best through his 2019 season to date, his 22-to-one odds to claim the Players Championship can arguably be described as generous. True, his game appears to be trending upward. And, true, he has prevailed in the tournament twice, never mind its staging two months earlier than its previous slot on the tour calendar. On the other hand, there can be no discounting the depth of the field and his relative standing in it given his advancing age, continued susceptibility to injury, and lack of reps. Just last week, he was forced to sit out the Arnold Palmer Invitational due to a neck strain.
Woods is Woods, of course, which is why the mere mention of his participation alters pundits’ prognoses of the Players Championship outcome. That he’s rated higher than Webb Simpson, the winner last year, and on par with Francesco Molinari, a winner last week, speaks volumes of the body of work he has amassed and, more importantly, how he amassed it. Those from the outside looking in have been burned more times than they care to remember for initially writing him off and then seeing him overcome seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
For Woods, there is no middle ground, and his teeming fans will be glad to note that he’s looking forward to teeing off with Simpson and controversial Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed today. He has declared himself in the pink of health and fit to contend, in and of themselves enough reason for bookies to hedge against him running the table. As far as they’re concerned, he continues to possess the unique blended of talent, creativity, and in-the-clutch shot making to take the measure of younger, fitter, and supposedly superior competition.
Because the Players Championship has been moved up from its usual May schedule, TPC Sawgrass figures to play slower and, thusly, longer; the cooler weather has compelled organizers to combine Bermuda with rye, allowing for less roll. On paper, the conditions seem to favor Woods less. Then again, he’s not just two shy of Sam Snead’s record of 82 career triumphs for nothing; he has won every which way, and on any given layout featuring every conceivable grass type. And it certainly helps that, for the season, he leads the tour in strokes gained on approach.
For Woods, the plan is simple: “Hit it good … You can’t really play poorly and win this event.” And for everybody else who has eyes on him, the assessment is simple: If and when he does “hit it good,” look out.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.