Tiger Woods’ impact still felt on PGA Tour, even in his absence

BETHESDA, Md. — Monday morning brought nothing new.

The world of golf, always itching for the latest news on when its formative star might return, heard straight from Tiger Woods’ mouth that, as has been the case the past few months, he did not know. And while nearly every question asked of Woods as he appeared at the press event for the Quicken Loans National on the scenic 10th tee at Congressional Country Club danced around his health and his possible return, Woods’ continued influence on the sport has been directly felt despite his absence.

Less than 24 hours earlier, Jason Day was putting the finishing touches on another dominant performance, going wire-to-wire to win the Players Championship, his seventh PGA Tour title in the last calendar year. Day has been outspoken about his respect for Woods, how he read his book as a youngster and that eventually Woods became a mentor and even a friend. That friendship has continued as Day has risen to the top spot in the world and begun to draw the inevitable comparisons to Woods with his dominant play.

But looking a bit deeper at their lives and their personalities, it is easy to see the connection.

“He has a great family with his two kids there,” said Woods, also a father of two. “And he works extremely hard and he’s trying to figure out how he can get better as a player, especially with having a family and traveling. It’s not easy.”

As with everything Woods says, those last words, about the challenges of managing family life, come with the overtones of his very public past. Monday was Woods’ first public appearance since Wright Thompson’s sprawling ESPN the Magazine profile which further detailed the months and years of Woods’ downward spiral behind the scenes before his personal life was splashed across tabloid covers.

Day now enjoys the seemingly picture-perfect family Woods once did. But his undying work ethic also evokes a younger Woods.

“I just think it’s fantastic how he’s playing, how he’s handling himself, how focused he is and how committed he is to improving,” said Woods, painting a picture of a man that very much resembled himself in his heyday. “You see a lot of guys just come out here and just play just for playing’s sake. He practices with a purpose, and you can see it when he plays.”

As for Woods, he told reporters that he was practicing at home. What that means as far as a potential return is anyone’s guess, although it was easy to make a big deal out of the only swings anyone actually saw him take.

Taking part in a publicity stunt on the 10th hole, Woods came up desperately short on each shot attempt. The whole affair may not have been so dramatic if the backdrop wasn’t what Woods called “the toughest par 3 in golf,” as he dropped two straight wedge shots in the water from just over 100 yards out, then, when coaxed, hit a third onto the front slope below the green, turning his back and walking away as it splashed to rest with the others.

It’s a stark contrast between Day and Woods, the former at the top of his game and the latter wondering if he’ll ever be able to play again.

Some of the headlining players to commit to the event were announced Monday, including a pair of Woods’ contemporaries in Jim Furyk and Vijay Singh, as well as one of Day’s in Rickie Fowler. They are all recognizable players with fans, but not ones that move the needle the way that Woods does, or the way that Day is beginning to. But while we wait to see if either or both of them will commit to playing at Congressional next month, Day will continue his push to solidify himself as the top golfer in the world and Woods will continue to support him, quietly, from afar, trying to help him forge his own path to greatness.

“He’ll ask me a bunch of questions about how his game can get better,” said Woods. “All I say is, I’m not going to tell you how your game can get better; ask it the other way around of how I did it and I’ll answer it that way, because I don’t want to say ‘you should do this, you should do that.’”

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