One thing hasn’t changed about Tiger Woods, and that’s that he casts a mighty large shadow. When he’s there, all eyes turn toward him, and when he’s not — like on Wednesday, when it seems he did not practice— eyes turn toward the void he leaves.
Call it the Tiger in the room.
And so, it wasn’t uncommon on Wednesday at Bethpage Black to hear fans wonder aloud whether they missed Woods, who on Tuesday said he intended to play nine holes on the day before the start of the PGA Championship.
But by all accounts, Woods did not participate in golf activities here, whether a nine-hole practice, or a session on the driving range, where he spent his Tuesday.
This does potentially point to the thing that certainly has changed about Woods: He’s 43, not 30 anymore, and because of that, he’s especially mindful of the toll golf can take on his body, and that surgically fused spine of his.
“That's going to be the interesting part going forward; how much do I play and how much do I rest,” he said Tuesday. “I think I've done a lot of the legwork and the hard work already, trying to find my game over the past year and a half. Now I think it's just maintaining it. I know that I feel better when I'm fresh. The body doesn't respond like it used to, doesn't bounce back quite as well, so I've got to be aware of that.”
All that also means that he hasn’t played in a tournament since his historic win at Augusta — the type of monthlong, in-season break that Woods said he used to only take between the British Open and the PGA Championship, which was previously held in August. “That was my summer break,” he said. The PGA Championship moving to May has complicated matters a touch: “Now, with the condensed schedule, it's trying to find breaks.”
That means he didn’t play Quail Hollow, which Woods said he wanted to play. It also points to a more cautious Woods, one who knows how quickly careers can be derailed.
“To be honest with you, I wasn't ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again,” he said Tuesday about Quail Hollow. “I was lifting — my numbers were good. I was feeling good in the gym, but I wasn't mentally prepared to log in the hours.”
But as many professional golfers can attest, Woods’ star power is so great that it can eclipse others, even when he’s not around. Justin Rose experienced that when he won the Wells Fargo Championship this month. Even then, much of the talk was about Woods’ win at the Masters.
On Wednesday, with no Woods around, the questions about this weekend’s favorite fell to one of the golfers in his group, Francesco Molinari. Woods will tee off at 8:24 a.m. in Thursday's first round in a group with Brooks Koepka and Molinari.
“When I started 15 years ago, I wasn't even dreaming of playing against Tiger, so I feel lucky enough to have played with him many times now in many important moments, as well, for obviously my career but for his career, too,” Molinari said.
“He's won obviously 15 of these, and he knows how to do it.”