By DOUG FERGUSON
HARRISON, N.Y. – Tiger Woods has played four consecutive weeks on the PGA Tour only five times in his career, and two of those stretches came in 1996 when he was a 20-year-old rookie trying to avoid going to Q-school.
So his absence from the first of four playoff events in the FedEx Cup should have come as no surprise.
Nor should it be a problem.
Once the inaugural “PGA Tour Playoffs” head toward a conclusion, no one will remember that Woods skipped The Barclays. Even if he doesn’t win the FedEx Cup, odds are he’ll be in the running. And that beats any interest golf used to have in the fall, which was next to nil.
Truth is, Woods might have done the tour a favor.
Considering how he has been playing lately (two consecutive victories), and how he finished last season (six consecutive PGA Tour victories), it was conceivable the world’s No. 1 player could have wrapped up the FedEx Cup and gone home before the Tour Championship.
Which would have looked worse: Woods skipping what amounts to a wild-card game or sitting out the Super Bowl?
“Maybe he figured he had a first-round bye,” Woody Austin said Tuesday on a dreary day of rain at Westchester, which seemed to set the mood for those who believe the playoffs already are a bust because one guy didn’t show up.
Woods, of course, cares more about himself than an organization he could have supported by showing up in New York.
Nothing wrong with that, either.
The tour is bringing a team concept to golf with these playoffs, but it’s still an individual sport.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem must have come to the same conclusion Sunday during the final round of the Wyndham Championship, the last tournament to qualify for the playoffs. Yes, he was disappointed that Woods decided not to play The Barclays, especially after the tour was banking on all the stars playing the final four weeks of the FedEx Cup.
“On the other hand,” Finchem said, “I can’t second-guess Tiger about what he thinks he has to do to win.”
History shows that Woods plays his best golf when he paces himself, just as Jack Nicklaus did before him.
The best example might have been in 1996, when he played four straight weeks while trying to earn enough money to get his PGA Tour card. With a job secured and his energy drained, Woods unceremoniously pulled out of the Buick Challenge, then won two of his next three starts to qualify for the Tour Championship.
The most he has ever played in a row on the PGA Tour was five weeks in early 1999. His lone victory during that stretch came at the Buick Invitational, where he flirted with missing the cut before a 62-65 weekend.
Of his 59 tour victories, Woods has won only 10 times while playing his third consecutive week.
He has a formula, and it seems to work.
Contrast that with Brandt Snedeker, who won in Greensboro to improve his seeding in the playoffs from No. 32 to No. 9. The tour rookie also played in the PGA Championship, so he could finish the season playing six consecutive weeks.
“Some guys play their best golf after weeks off. That’s just the way it is,” Snedeker said. “Everybody is different. I seem to play my best golf when I go on stretches like this where I play a lot on the road for some reason.”
K.J. Choi once closed the 2000 season by playing six consecutive weeks. He missed the cut five straight times before a tie for 29th in the Southern Farm Bureau Classic.
“By the fifth week, I was so worn out,” Choi said. “All my shots were weak and I had no energy.”
If there’s a problem with the FedEx Cup, it might be asking players to cram so much golf into such a short stretch. Golf is more about quality starts than endurance, which is why so many players set their schedules accordingly.
Woods is among those who can get away with it.
Scott Verplank already is thinking about skipping round two at the Deutsche Bank Championship. He is No. 11 in the standings and is virtually a lock to play in the Tour Championship at East Lake, a course on which he feels as though he can win.
“I know me better than anyone else, and my body is not going to hold up over four weeks,” the 43-year-old Verplank said. “If I’m beat up and dead tired going to Atlanta, on a course where I feel I can win, what good is that?”
David Toms loves to go to LSU football games in the fall and to play in the Tour Championship, but as the No. 25 seed going into the playoffs, he might miss both. Asked if he was planning to play all four events, he replied, “Unless there’s some way around it.”
“I’d hate to take a week off and not being able to go to the Tour Championship,” Toms said.
Most players try to peak for the four biggest events of the year, which are spread over five months, not four weeks.
Woods said Tuesday in his monthly newsletter he supports the FedEx Cup playoffs.
“I need a little break to get ready for the final three events because I think it gives me the best chance to challenge for the title,” he said. “Plus, I want to be sharp for the Presidents Cup the last week in September.”
The tour doesn’t need Woods at Westchester for its playoffs to be a success. He will be at Boston, Chicago and Atlanta, joined by Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and the rest of golf’s biggest names.
The only time so many stars have gotten together this late in the year was at the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.
That alone is a victory for the PGA Tour.