Tiger Woods: How the absence of ‘the heartbeat of golf’ at The Players Championship is being felt

May 30, 2024

It is Sunday, November 15, 2020. Scottie Scheffler is on the par-three 12th hole of Augusta National in the final round of the pandemic-delayed Masters and is watching playing partner and defending champion Tiger Woods shoot a 10 after firing three balls into the water of Rae’s Creek.

It will go down as the worst single-hole score of the 15-time major winner’s professional career, but what sticks out most for Scheffler is not so much that aberration, but the fact Woods shook it off and went on to birdie five of the six remaining holes.

Three-and-a-half years down the line, Scheffler is saddened he will not have an opportunity to defend his Players Championship title in a field containing the 48-year-old, who opted against teeing up at TPC Sawgrass this week, but is still in awe of what he saw during that round at Augusta.

Scottie Scheffler praises Tiger Woods for his excellence in the sport and how much of an honour it is to play alongside him

“He’s just so much different, I think, than the rest of us,” Scheffler said of Woods. “Like, he’s won so many golf tournaments, and he makes a 10 on No 12 at Augusta, and he birdies five of the last six holes, and it’s Sunday.

“I mean, it’s completely meaningless to him; like, at that stage in his career, what’s the point? And for him just to step up there and completely turn it around – and I kid you not, he hit still to this day, three of the best iron shots I’ve ever seen hit coming into those last few holes, and it was just unbelievable to watch.

“As far as I’m concerned, and in my lifetime, Tiger’s really been the guy that’s dominated basically since 1997 up until about 2020, whenever he really got hurt. I don’t know if we’ll ever see anything like that again in the game of golf.”

Those moments from playing a round with one of golf’s all-time greats are not just what Scheffler has taken from Woods though. The world No 1 also learnt from his approach of playing every shot, whether it is his first or last of a tournament, like it is the most important of his career.

Tiger Woods reflects on his two Players Championship wins, including his victory in 2001 which included one of the most iconic moments in his career

Xander Schauffele has been able to marvel at some of Woods’ triumphs since graduating to the PGA Tour eight years ago, notably his last Masters win in 2019 and his Tour Championship victory the year before.

They are moments the reigning Olympic golf champion treasurers and he is in no doubt the wider golfing fraternity should too, and Schauffele knows how much of a draw Woods is even though his prowess is somewhat diminished since his 2021 car accident.

“To see him win the Masters, to see him win at East Lake, I find myself very fortunate,” Schauffele said.

“I think all the golf fans should as well, and if there’s anyone that’s going to talk about putting their head in the sand and find some way to win another golf tournament, I would imagine it’s going to be him.

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“So being his competitor, I pull for him pretty hard, and he’s kind of the heartbeat of golf, in my opinion, and any time he tees it up it’s a spectacle.”

Woods has not appeared at The Players since tying for 30th in 2019 and his five-year exemption for the tournament earned through his last Masters win is due to expire this year.

Whether some new exemption might be granted as a past champion at TPC Sawgrass remains to be seen, although PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan feels Woods would be the last person to push for that to happen.

“I think you all know Tiger well enough to know that he wants to earn his way into every competition,” Monahan said. “That’s his makeup.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan says Tiger Woods wants to earn his own way into every competition and admits that he would be the hardest golfer to convince to return to compete at the Players Championship.

“But I think as you go forward and as you evolve as an organisation and you think about how you serve and satisfy a rabid fan base, those discussions more broadly would likely be held at the policy board meeting, and I’m sure we would have that discussion.

“But he would be the hardest one to convince.”

Having opted to skip The Players, the question now remains as to whether or not Woods will return to Augusta National for the Masters next month, a tournament which grants lifetime exemptions to all former champions.

Scheffler is among those wondering how many more times the golfing icon will be seen in competition as well, but hopes he will still have opportunities to play alongside him.

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“I wish I had a crystal ball, and I could tell you how many of those we had left, but anytime I think you get to play with – I mean, he’s definitely the best player I’ve ever seen, and I think he’s the best player we’ve ever had,” Scheffler said.

“Anytime you can stand up there and walk alongside him and compete in the same golf tournament as him is really special.”

Sky Sports Golf will once again be the home of The Players in 2024, with nearly 60 hours of live coverage during tournament week and a host of extra content available for you to enjoy. Live

Bonus coverage will be available via the red button for all four tournament rounds, with featured groups and bonus marquee groups there to enjoy every day alongside a special featured holes feed.