Only once in his career has Tiger Woods gone from major to major without a known injury or death in the family. That makes his decision to pass up next week’s Quail Hollow PGA Tour stop a bit jarring since he’s now going straight from his Masters win to the next major. This year, it’s the first-ever May PGA Championship.
No one expects him to add the PGA’s preceding AT&T Byron Nelson for a litany of obvious reasons, meaning he will turn up at Bethpage having gone 31 days between competitive rounds.
“The Masters took a lot out of him,” agent Mark Steinberg told ESPN.com’s Bob Harig. “He’s still digesting and appreciating what happened.”
Since Tiger has generally played better fresh than in the middle of an extensive run, he’s signaling more than ever that majors are all that matters. This should not be a surprise, nor should it be criticized. He is an all-time great looking to become the all-time greatest, and while the 82-win plateau is a fantastic accomplishment getting a heavy push from the PGA Tour’s marketing arm, 18 is the number he’s looking to surpass.
Tiger is enough of a historian to know that Ben Hogan reached a point after his accident to realize the limitations of his body, mind and desire.
In the first year back from the accident, Hogan played nine times with two starts after winning the U.S. Open that meant nothing: the Palm Beach Round Robin and the Motor City Open.
After 1950 when he pushed himself and was a little unlucky—Hogan had to return to Riviera for an 18-hole playoff a week after the event was scheduled—he cut back significantly. Hogan’s starts after 1950 were severely curtailed to protect his mind and body.
He played four times in 1951, three times in 1952 and eight times in 1953, though two of those starts were the Seminole and Palmetto Pro-Am’s.
Hogan returned to four-start seasons in 1954 and again in 1955, then played even more sporatic schedules after that.
While Woods’s win at the 2018 Tour Championship gave him the confidence to savor most of the off-season and devote his early 2019 to protecting energy levels, he has not forgotten that last year’s grueling playoff run caused him to lose weight and push his body too hard. He signaled with his pass on Quail Hollow that he won’t be making that mistake again.
Tiger will not be cutting back to Hogan levels but if he keeps winning majors, he will keep passing on PGA Tour events.
The PGA Tour’s new condensed schedule requires such an approach for a player at his age, with his track record of playing well off a break. His bank account also allows him to not care about “chasing points” or grinding at Quail Hollow, a course he once liked but but seems to have less affinity for after multiple renovations and tedious walks to new back tees.
Just as Hogan limited his exposure to stress, Woods is managing his 2019 at the expense of regular PGA Tour events with majors in mind. History says he’s making the right move.