ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods has a voice that can be as big as his golf game.
What it lacks is sufficient visibility.
Woods left little room for interpretation Tuesday when the 15-time Grand Slam champion criticized Greg Norman’s new Saudi-funded LIV Golf series for not being the best for golf. He said the players who couldn’t resist the money (some received more than Woods has earned in his entire PGA Tour career) had “turned their backs” on the very tour that made them famous.
None is as famous as Woods. He is not just the locomotive that moves the train. For the modern game, he is the whole railroad.
“What are these players doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice? What’s the incentive to go out there and win it on earth? Woods said. “You just get paid a lot of money up front, and you play some events and you play 54 holes.”
They were his strongest comments to date, one of the longest and most passionate responses from Woods, who for so many years preferred his clubs to get the message across.
What the PGA Tour wouldn’t give to have Woods on fire, playing a full schedule, in the midst of one of golf’s most disruptive moments.
The British Open is only the third tournament Woods has played in his year (four, including the two-day charity pro-am in Ireland last week), and it will likely be his last until he arrives in the Bahamas at the end of the year to some vacations. event he organizes.
While Norman was laying the groundwork last fall and figuring out how to spend all that money from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, Woods was out of the public eye from February to late November recovering from his car accident outside Los Angeles.
He first spoke in the Bahamas, saying his allegiance was to the PGA Tour and “that’s where my legacy is.”
And then it was another four months before Woods played at the Masters again. And after that, six weeks until the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where he distanced himself from Phil Mickelson, nothing new there, LIV Golf-wise.
Woods is now back in public two months later. His words are getting louder.
His most pointed comments were for players who apparently had their careers ahead of them, who hadn’t yet made it onto the PGA Tour and opted to take money they would have otherwise had to earn through performance.
Woods spoke at his Hall of Fame induction in March that his parents took out a second mortgage on his house to pay for his junior development. And when he turned pro and signed big endorsement deals with Nike and Titleist, the priority was to pay for it.
That was his way.
As he spoke Tuesday, the Official World Golf Ranking board was holding its annual meeting in St. Andrews. It remains to be determined whether LIV Golf earns world ranking points. Even if you go through a one-year waiting period, most if not all players will be out of the top 50 by then. That makes it a long way back, especially if the big boys, who seem to like LIV Golf as much as Woods, change their minds.
“That’s a possibility, that some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this here, walk the streets of Augusta National,” Woods said. “That to me, I just don’t get it.”
LIV Golf still doesn’t have anyone in the top 15 in the world rankings, though it does have some major champions with a lot of recognition: Mickelson, Norman’s head of recruiting; Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, and Bryson DeChambeau.
There was a time not too long ago when DeChambeau couldn’t spend enough time with Woods on the golf course (they played the same brand of golf balls). Regardless of how influential Woods is, DeChambeau sees him only a few times a year. That’s the measure of how much Woods can play on a right leg that he described as full of hardware from surgeries.
A famous story over the years was how Mickelson would joke around with a roomful of players, and Mickelson would end any debate by asking, “How many majors have you won?” But first, he would look over his shoulder to make sure Woods wasn’t in the room.
Woods still owns the stage in golf. he always has. He just doesn’t go out as much.
Norman is not in St. Andrews for the British Open champions meeting. It’s unclear if he ever planned to attend, as he skipped the last two times it was held at the golf house. The R&A thought it would be a distraction in the middle of the 150th edition celebration and asked him not to come this year.
Woods thought it was the right decision.
“Greg has done some things that I don’t think are in the best interest of our game,” he said.
He later made reference to Norman trying to start a World Golf Tour in the early 1990s that was cancelled. The most powerful dissenting voice back then came from Arnold Palmer. The King was 20 years past his last PGA Tour victory, but he still has a constant presence in golf.
That’s what the tour could use from Woods.