PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Adam Scott knew the only way for him to remain relevant was to win golf tournaments.
Tiger Woods has it far easier. All he had to do was hit one shot in a simulator.
The Honda Classic did not lack for activity, even without the beer-drinking bozos leaning over the railing of grandstands on the 17th hole to shout at Sergio Garcia that the Spaniard should “go back to the European Tour” and at Adam Scott to put “two more (balls) in the water.”
It started with Jack Nicklaus hosting nearly two dozen potential Ryder Cup players for dinner, a treat for anyone among the top 40 in the U.S. standings. He said he talked about how to prepare for big events, though it was not clear what else could be gleaned from the night except to hang out with golf’s greatest champion.
“I can’t imagine how them coming over to have dinner at an old man’s house is going to help any,” Nicklaus said.
It ended with Scott’s first victory in 21 months. The affable Aussie lost a chance at one of the best rounds of his career when he made a quadruple bogey on the 15th hole Saturday and still shot 66. The next day, he became a footnote in PGA Tour history as the first player since 2009 to make a quadruple bogey and still win the tournament.
Through it all, what generated the most conversation across the spectrum was Woods.
In a span of five days, speculation ranged from Woods being unable to sit in a chair to Woods taking full swings with the driver. A rumor on social media suggested his back was so bad from two surgeries late last year that he had to recline his passenger’s seat as someone else drove his car. On Wednesday, he posted a video on Twitter that showed him hitting a 9-iron in a golf simulator. A report followed the next day that he was swinging a driver.
Perhaps that’s why Nicklaus was so hesitant to say anything on Sunday.
Woods is a Ryder Cup vice captain and was at the Nicklaus dinner, and the players said he looked to be doing well. So did Nicklaus.
“He says he was feeling good… and he was able to stand over a putt and chip now without having any leg pain and so forth,” Nicklaus said. “We didn’t really talk a whole lot about it. He doesn’t have a timetable for returning or anything else.”
“I think he was just… he’s pretty private about what his situation is, and I don’t blame him,” Nicklaus added. “Because every time he opens his mouth, there’s nothing but articles written about speculation about Tiger. And I don’t want to break his… he likes it when we talk. We talk about different things. I just don’t think it’s my place to expound on Tiger’s health and so forth.”
What does it all mean?
No one can say for sure, except the golfing public seems to be in a bigger rush for Woods to return than he is.
The best guess is that if Woods has learned anything, he will return later rather than sooner. He came back too early from leg injuries in 2011, withdrew after 42 on the front nine at The Players Championship and sat out three months. He came back too soon from back surgery that knocked him out of the Masters and U.S. Open in 2014. He played 11 tournaments over the next year and was as irrelevant as he has ever been on the golf course.
That’s what makes all the speculation about Woods so fascinating. He seems to be relevant as long as he’s not playing. In place of his recent performance are memories of a player the likes of which has not been seen by any of the four players who have been No. 1 since Woods last won a tournament.
Nicklaus used to always say he thought Woods would break his record of 18 professional majors until one day Nicklaus was so tired of the same question that he asked the audience what kind of headlines he would make if he ever said differently.
It’s not about records. It’s about playing.
Nicklaus said he told Woods, “Nobody wants their records to be broken, but I don’t want you not to have the ability to have that opportunity.”
For now, the most trusted reports from those who were at the Nicklaus dinner. Phil Mickelson said he was fun, social, laughing. Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III used words like “fit” and “happy” to describe Woods.
Jimmy Walker brought the levity.
“I talked to him just a second,” Walker said. “I said, ‘Wow, you’re standing up and you’re not dead.’ He said, ‘I know. That’s how everybody thinks I am now – dead.’”
Imagine what it will be like at the tournament where Woods returns to golf, whenever that might be. And then imagine how long before the fans realize he is a 40-year-old with four surgeries on his knee and three surgeries on his back.
Everyone wants to see Woods play again, as long as he plays like the Woods they once knew.
Meanwhile, Scott became relevant again. He is a PGA Tour winner again, even with a short putter, and moved back into the top 10 at No. 9 in the world.
Woods fell one spot to No. 446.