It’s OK to start wondering again if Tiger Woods will return to the Honda Classic

 

The Tiger Watch is officially on for the Honda Classic.

Palm Beach County’s annual PGA Tour event is 11 weeks off, with four championship rounds scheduled for Feb. 22-25, 2018 at PGA National Golf Club.

That’s plenty of time to figure out how Tiger’s back is doing. Time, too, to read the tea leaves when it comes to his schedule-making.

Tiger Woods watches his shot from the third tee during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Dante Carrer)

“We’re going to figure out what’s the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships,” Woods said on Sunday after finished tied for ninth at his latest comeback event, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

“What my training cycles are going to be? Play enough, but don’t play too much.”

Let me suggest going easy on the international travel, since back spasms are what ended last year’s  comeback attempt at the Dubai Desert Classic in February.

So, hmmm, try this on for size.

Play the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, one of Tiger’s favorites, in late January. Then Pebble Beach in early February, unless it gets colder and nastier than usual, when a withdrawal would be in order. Then it’s the Honda, and then Bay Hill in mid-March and then the Masters in April.

Hey, that was easy. And no, I did not get this suggestion from Ken Kennerly, executive director of the Honda Classic.

It just makes sense after all the back surgeries and injuries to take it slow this time.

Tiger himself talked about building for the majors, and he needs four more of those titles to catch Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Why not spread out the events a little, choosing only those that prepare him to win more majors in ways other than just the logging of scores and the making of money?

PGA National’s Champion Course fits the bill. The PGA Championship, a major, was played there in 1987, and the Ryder Cup matches have been there, too. It’s a strong test with an enthusiastic home crowd to match the numbers of many majors. So what do you say? Is it a done deal with the Jupiter Island resident?

Hardly, but one procedural quirk does work in the Honda’s favor.

Some top players skip the Honda because they don’t want to schedule that tournament and the World Golf Championship in Mexico on consecutive weeks. The WGC is a bigger deal and it takes more planning and more time to get there.

This probably does not apply to Tiger, however, since the WGC-Mexico Championship is open to the top 50 in the Official World Golf Rankings and the top 10 in Fed Ex Cup points. Even with his good finish at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger ranks 668th in the world rankings due to his extended absences. Also, it’s not likely that he will play enough to pile up the Fed Ex points.

Hey, it’s all up to him, but the Honda, won last year by Rickie Fowler, will always be more electric with Tiger.

Last year, if Rickie hadn’t been on top of the scoreboard, the list of contenders would not have been instantly recognizable to the general public, and Kennerly is always working to appeal to non-golf fans, too, with the concerts and fireworks and exhibits that grow each year at the Honda.

Here is Tiger’s career record at the Honda since the tournament moved to PGA National.

2012 – Tied for 2nd with rounds of 71, 68, 69 and 62. Yes, that’s right, a Sunday 62, to move up from 18th place to the runnerup spot behind winner Rory McIlroy.

2013 – Tied for 37th with rounds of 70, 70, 70 and 74.

2014 – Withdrew during the fourth round after posting rounds of 71, 69 and 65. Tiger was tied for 17th through 54 holes, seven shots off the lead, but he left the course with back spasms after playing 13 holes on Sunday.