This week’s dreamy narrative is perfectly understandable. Should Tiger Woods, back in his native southern California, secure PGA Tour win No 83 the golf world may run out of Kleenex. Woods has a strangely patchy record at what is now the Genesis Invitational but that doesn’t matter for now; this was the first PGA Tour event he played in, as a 16-year-old in 1992. Earlier, he would visit Riviera Country Club to watch professionals he was merely hoping to emulate.
This week provides a wonderful paradox where Woods is concerned. Media duties included tales of a bygone age. There was one encounter between Tiger the spectator and the late Bruce Edwards, long-time caddie for Tom Watson. “Tom hit his ball to the back left pin, hit it left of the green, on the 8th,” Woods recalled. “I’m basically one of the only ones over there, Bruce was on the bag and I’m standing looking at the golf ball. He comes over and says, ‘Move out of the way, kid,’ and pushes me out of the way. I’m out on tour telling him this story and he says, ‘Well, you were in the way.’” And to think, Woods later teamed up with Steve Williams.
Woods now hosts the event. This week’s field includes nine of the world’s top 10 and 19 of the leading 25. And yet, golf in early 2020 has been dominated by what may happen next.
Premier League Golf’s aspirations to rip up the PGA Tour model and start again with the world’s leading players is the supposed pipe dream that won’t go away. Given the project has been years in the making, it was no shock to hear Woods confirm on Tuesday that he has been approached by golf’s rebel alliance. Also of no surprise was that the 15-times major winner was circumspect on the proposal.
“My team’s been aware of it and we’ve delved into the details of it and are trying to figure it out just like everyone else,” Woods said. “We’ve been down this road before with World Golf Championships and other events being started, or other tours want to evolve and start. There’s a lot of information that we’re still looking at and whether it’s reality or not, but just like everybody else, we’re looking into it.”
Woods was given a subsequent chance to at least play down the scheme. While, smartly, not offering effusive praise he wasn’t of a mind to be dismissive. “Just like all events, you’re trying to get the top players to play more collectively,” he added. “It’s one of the reasons why we instituted the World Golf Championships, because we were only getting together five times a year, the four majors and the Players and we wanted to showcase the top players on more than just those occasions. We came up with the World Golf Championships and we’re meeting more often. And so this is a natural evolution, whether or not things like this are going to happen, but ideas like this are going to happen going forward, whether it’s now or any other time in the future.”
It is no exaggeration to point out Woods is crucial to this whole Premier League plan. When he speaks, cheque writers listen. Should he decide to back it, the consequences would be momentous: for the PGA Tour, for other players who would automatically follow his lead and for the new model itself. One man has the power to make or break it. But if you are Woods, who knows the Premier League is backed by phenomenal finance and that the PGA Tour will do everything within its power to swat this threat aside, you’d be unlikely or unwise to deliver a final decision until absolutely necessary. If leading PGA Tour players generally have been empowered by the Premier League’s lavish contracts, Woods is the king maker. It is perhaps harsh but also a brutal reality that the Premier League couldn’t fly if Woods – and, to only a slightly lesser extent Rory McIlroy – remained in an alternative domain.
There are, as ever, fascinating subplots. This week at Riviera, players and their representatives are expected to hold their latest round of discussions relating to the Premier League. The individual so far most closely associated with the breakaway is Phil Mickelson, who had the Premier League’s founders as pro-am partners during his recent trip to Saudi Arabia. It would be overplaying matters to suggest Woods, especially now, would automatically adopt the opposite approach to an individual with whom there was indifference – to put it mildly – for years. Yet Woods, as astute off the course as he is on it, will be perfectly aware of the backdrop. Arnold Palmer catapulted the PGA Tour into fresh commercial territory in the 1960s, a scenario that has parallels with what Woods did decades later. It remains a long-shot that Woods would play the links renegade, particularly in this later phase of his career, when he could basically mirror Palmer as a PGA Tour icon who secured life-changing deals for other golfers. In return, it is wholly logical that Woods’s commercial demands, just as the PGA Tour prepares to sign a new television deal, will be steep.
It feels inevitable that the top level golf landscape will change in the not-so distant future. The fairways will soon be paved with even more gold. Woods, in pursuit of tour and major records, will have a far bigger say than he has so far been credited with. Including, of course, by himself.