By DOUG FERGUSON
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland (AP) — Tiger Woods has a voice that can be as a big as his golf game.
What he lacks is enough visibility.
Woods left little room for interpretation Tuesday when the 15-time major champion hammered away at Greg Norman’s new Saudi-funded LIV Golf series as not being in golf’s best interests. He said players who couldn’t resist the money — some received more than Woods has earned in his entire PGA Tour career — had “turned their back” on the very tour that made them famous.
None is as famous as Woods. He is not just the engine that drives the train. For the modern game, he’s the entire railroad.
“What these players are doing for guaranteed money, what is the incentive to practice? What is the incentive to go out there and earn it in the dirt?” Woods said. “You’re just getting paid a lot of money up front, and playing a few events and playing 54 holes.”
They were his strongest comments to date, one of the lengthiest and most passionate answers from Woods, who for so many years preferred that his clubs delivered the message.
What the PGA Tour wouldn’t give to have Woods at full strength, playing a full schedule, in the midst of one of the most disruptive moments in golf.
The British Open is only the third tournament Woods has played his year — four including the two-day charity pro-am in Ireland last week — and probably will be his last until he gets to the Bahamas at the end of the year for a holiday event he hosts.
While Norman was laying the ground work 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 the end of November recovering from his car crash outside Los Angeles.
He spoke for the first time in the Bahamas and said his allegiance was to the PGA Tour and “that’s where my legacy is.”
And then it was another four months before Woods played again at the Masters. And after that, six weeks until the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, where he distanced himself from Phil Mickelson — nothing new there — when it came to the LIV Golf.
Woods now is back in the public two months later. His words are getting stronger.
His most pointed comments were for players who seemingly had their careers in front of them, who had yet to even make it to the PGA Tour and chose to take money they otherwise would have had to earn through performance.
Woods spoke at his Hall of Fame induction in March of his parents taking out a second mortgage on their home to pay for his junior development. And when he turned pro and signed big endorsements deals with Nike and Titleist, the priority was to pay it off.
That was his road.
As he spoke Tuesday, the Official World Golf Ranking board had its annual meeting at St. Andrews. Still to be determined is whether LIV Golf gets world ranking points. Even if it goes through a one-year waiting period, most — if not all — of the players will be out of the top 50 by then. That makes it a long road back, especially if the majors — which seem to like LIV Golf as much as Woods — change their criteria.
“That is a possibility, that some players will never, ever get a chance to play in a major championship, never get a chance to experience this right here, walk down the fairways at Augusta National,” Woods said. “That to me, I just don’t understand it.”
LIV Golf still doesn’t have anyone from the top 15 in the world ranking, though it has some major champions with plenty of name recognition — Mickelson, a chief recruiter for Norman; Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau.
There was a time not along ago when DeChambeau couldn’t spend enough time with Woods on the golf course (they played the same brand of golf ball). Whatever influence Woods has, DeChambeau sees him only a few times a year. That’s the extent of how much Woods can play on a right leg he described as being full of hardware from surgeries.
One famous story over the years was how Mickelson would engage in banter with a room full of players, and Mickelson would end any debate by asking, “How many majors have you won?” But first, he would look over his should to make sure Woods was not in the room.
Woods still owns the stage in golf. He always has. He just doesn’t get out as much.
Norman isn’t at St. Andrews for the gathering of British Open champions. It’s not clear whether he ever planned to attend, having skipped the last two times it was held at the home of golf. The R&A figured he would be a distraction amid the celebration of the 150th edition and asked him not to come this year.
Woods thought it was the right call.
“Greg has done some things that I don’t think is in the best interest of our game,” he said.
He later referenced Norman trying to start a World Golf Tour in the early 1990s that was quashed. The most powerful dissenting voice back then came from Arnold Palmer. The King was 20 years beyond his last PGA Tour win but still a consistent presence in golf.
That’s what the tour could use from Woods.
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