An interesting thread came out of the questions in the media center at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge on Saturday. Tiger Woods was going over the very difficult conditions the field of 18 had to play under, what with rain and wind in the morning, sunshine midway and then beguiling winds again in the afternoon.
In the face of that, Woods shot even par to maintain a two-stroke lead over Zach Johnson and four over Bubba Watson. Matt Kuchar is in 4th by himself and seven shots behind Woods. So given the difficulties of the conditions, it looks like a three-horse race for the title.
Perhaps because of that and the matter seemed settled in the room, it opened the door for other lines of questions. So out of nowhere, Woods was asked how long he planned to play under his lifetime exemption into the Masters:
Let me put it to you this way. I’m not going to beat Arnold’s record. I’m not playing that long. That’s for sure.
Palmer played 50 straight years in the Masters from 1955 through 2004, winning the tournament four times. But for the last twenty beginning in 1984, he never made a cut again. But no matter. He was such an institution, “The King,” fans were glad to get a glimpse of the charismatic man who brought professional golf mainstream. He was revered. Still is.
Woods will never be able to touch that record because he doesn’t want to.
You know, for me, I always want to win. So if I can’t win, why tee it up? That’s just my own personal belief. And I know what it takes to prepare to win and what it takes to go out there and get the job done, and there’s going to come a point in time where I just can’t do it anymore. We all as athletes face that moment. I’m a ways away from that moment in my sport, but when that day happens I’ll make a decision and that’s it.
It’s hard to know when that might be.
Well, considering Tom [Watson] almost won the British Open at age 59, you know. Sam [Snead] winning at 53 or 54 at Greensboro. We can do it for a long period of time. And you’ve seen so many guys of late where — Fred Funk, Jay Haas, Raymond Floyd, Freddie [Couples] do well in their late 40s and 50s.
Every other sport you’re done at my age, or younger. You know, in golf you can still win golf tournaments in your 50s, and guys have done it. Guys have proven it. And I think that’s probably the more difficult thing is that you can still finish Top 10, top 5s, but you’re probably just not quite as efficient as you need to be to win golf tournaments. But you can still be there.
What’s Freddie now, 54 now or something like that? And every single year it seems like he’s in contention to win the Masters, like the last 20 some odd years. You can just do it. At certain venues you can do it.
But guys have played the Masters into their 60s. Does he see himself mellowing on this further down the line?
No. Mellowing on that, no. I’ll be on that first tee starting out the event [hitting a ceremonial drive as an honorary starter], I’m sure. So I mean you hit a good drive and you can’t get to where you can see the flag, I don’t — I don’t know why it’s even fun. (Laughs)
So Woods seems fairly uncompromising on this: if he doesn’t think he can win, he won’t play.
But as competitive as he is, as accustomed as he is to being the center of attention on golf’s grandest stages, it wouldn’t seem too surprising if he went to some lengths to rationalize his competitive competence beyond the horizon that he envisions now.
As big as he is now, he’ll be bigger by then and the world of golf will surely welcome him for as long as he wants to play.