CHARLOTTE, N.C. — There are Tiger tournaments, and then there is everything else.
This week’s Wells Fargo Championship was expected to be the former. Three weeks removed from his Masters victory, two weeks before the next major, the PGA Championship, and a course in Quail Hollow where Woods has often played in the past, it seemed logical.
Then Tiger chose rest over reps. Who can blame him? Fifteenth career major or not, his age is still measured in dog years. He sure didn’t look like a guy who was ready or willing to tee it up for a tournament as he hobbled his way to an interview with GolfTV last week.
Certainly no fault of the good folks at the Wells Fargo. Tiger can’t give it a go the way he used to, even at regular haunts, and he has said multiple times that he won’t play as much as he did last year. This is the new reality. Appreciate it while you still can.
Not that everyone wasn’t at least a little bummed.
“I would be less than honest if I told you I wasn't disappointed,” Wells Fargo tournament director Gary Sobba said. “You're talking arguably the greatest golfer of all time and you absolutely want him in your field. But I totally understand and respect it. Long term, we want what’s good for Tiger.”
What’s good for everyone else, of course, is when Tiger does play. More eyeballs, more tickets, more busses, more concessions, more security. More, more, more.
“The group he plays in will double [in size] anything Rory or Rickie will play in front of,” said Justin Rose. “Everything’s multiplied, the noise and the people.”
When he’s not playing, especially when you think he will? The air is out of the proverbial balloon and the void real.
“Really bummed,” Harold Varner III said earlier this week. “I like the crowds, I like the people he brings. Oh, yeah, I was supposed to play with him. Yeah, I was bummed. I gave him a good text, he hasn't replied yet. But yeah, I'm pissed.”
Of course, it’s different when Tiger comes to town.
Take the local Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police. Working the tournament is a plum assignment with increased pay and better scenery. When Woods played in last year’s edition there were near 50 officers scattered around the course, according to one veteran cop who has worked the event for years. This year? Maybe 30.
As Rory McIlroy charged into contention with an opening-round 66 on Thursday afternoon, the crowd size was nice. Same on Friday morning. But nice doesn’t describe the swarm when Tiger is teeing it up.
Last year, University of South Carolina-Upstate golf coach Todd Lawton, who every year this week oversees the driving range, brought his college-age son, who is not a golf fan, to the event. He told his son to watch the reaction when Woods got to the range.
“The air changed,” he said.
The crowds are healthy in this golf-crazed town, and the field starry with nearly half of the top 20 in the world ranking, including Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, as well as Phil Mickelson. But the vibe is different.
The media center? Not even half full. A sign of the biz but also one of who's not here.
When Woods wasn't playing because of his bad back we got used to it and moved on, ushering in a new era of young stars and conditioning ourselves to life after Tiger. Then he came back. All the way back.
“I think there was a time where people still loved to watch him play, but they were watching him, not watching him play golf,” Rose said. “Now they're watching him play golf again, which people get excited about.”
The hysteria is back, and rightfully so following Woods’ victory at the Masters.
But — no disrespect to McIlroy, Fowler, Mickelson or the other big names playing at Quail Hollow — the buzz that Tiger brings isn’t.
It won’t be a lot of other weeks, either.
Which should only make you appreciate the times he does play that much more because it's so damn good.