He’s 5,000 miles away in Singapore. Even if he were home in America, the Champions Tour, with its season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship underway at TPC Harding Park, is not where Tiger Woods would be competing.
Yet, for better or worse, no matter where, no matter when, Tiger seemingly is the only one who counts in golf.
Even during a tournament for seniors, or if you will Champions.
Every conversation, every question, every discussion with the great Fred Couples — who Thursday shared the first-day lead in the Schwab Cup; who also is captain of the U.S. team for the Presidents Cup — either began with a reference to Tiger or ended with a reference to Tiger.
“Almost comical,” Couples said.
There was no vitriol, no anger. But since Couples is a sports fan who knowledgably can ruminate on, say, what happened to Tony La Russa’s phantom call to the bullpen during Game 5 of the World Series, there was an understanding.
This isn’t just getting up and down out one of Harding’s well-placed bunkers. This is about taking a flier on the most famous golfer on the globe, if lately not the most effective one, and subsequently taking a lot of flak.
“We have 11 other guys on the team,” reminded Couples about the squad facing men from Japan, Australia, South Africa and Korea, a couple of weeks from now in Melbourne.
“But it seems like it’s all about Tiger.”
Because, after Couples made Woods a stunning, and early, wild-card choice in August, it has been all about Tiger.
Even the other captain, Greg Norman, the Aussie, announced recently, “I wouldn’t have picked him.”
Sports is about recognition. About controversy. About second-guessing. About irony.
The Charles Schwab Cup is two tournaments in one, the finish to a yearlong points race (Tom Lehman is ahead there, and with a first-round 70, a shot under par, is two shots out of the lead of the regular tournament).
Couples and Jay Haas, who happens to be Couples assistant captain for the Presidents Cup — and whose son, Bill, was Couples’ other wild-card choice — share the opening round lead with 3-under 68s.
Bill Haas was under notice he had to win the last event on the regular Tour, the Tour Championship — which he did by nearly holing a shot from a water hazard at the final hole — to be chosen by Couples. Tiger only had to be Tiger.
“Every shot is, you know,” said Couples of Woods’ recent play at CordeValle in the South Bay. What he meant, is every shot is an incident.
Meanwhile, Luke Donald of England is No. 1 in the world rankings and barely gets any TV time.
“To me,” said Couples, “it’s fun to see everyone is interested in Tiger Woods. Now I’m interested.”
He’s hardly alone. Woods got off a plane Wednesday in Asia and declared that, without a solid performance since the Masters, he was lucky to be named to the Presidents Cup team.
If Tiger plays poorly, Couples will be lucky not to be ripped by media and golf cognoscenti. Fred remains oblivious.
“I don’t have thin skin,” Couples said. “This guy has won 100 tournaments. If you look at what he’s done in golf, he’s done it all.”
If Tiger flops at the Presidents Cup, that may not be enough.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.