PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — No more than four U.S. men’s golfers can compete at the Rio Olympics, and 53 Americans are currently ranked higher than Tiger Woods.
But Woods, the 14-time major champion and No. 125-ranked golfer in the world, is prepared to fight for a place in the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904.
“It’s very important,” Woods said following a practice round at The Players Championship on Tuesday morning. “Guys want to solidify themselves, play for not only their country and that but also have a chance to do something that hasn’t been done in a very long time: win a medal in golf.”
The Olympic golf field of 60 can include no more than four players per nation inside the top 15 of the Official World Golf Ranking on July 11, 2016. It will likely dip into the 300s in the rankings to complete the field.
If the field was chosen on today’s rankings, the fourth and final American to earn an automatic place would be No. 8 Dustin Johnson. No. 11 Jimmy Walker, No. 12 J.B. Holmes, No. 13 Jimmy Walker and No. 15 Patrick Reed, plus 45 more Americans ranked ahead of Woods would be shut out.
The way the Official World Golf Ranking works, Woods and others have plenty of time to jump into the Olympic field. The ranking is made up of a two-year rolling window of results, with the most recent results weighted the heaviest.
Therefore, more than half of the results that go into the ranking on the Olympic cutoff date next year have yet to be accumulated.
Woods is off to a very slow start, though, due in part to a back injury that kept him to one tournament from September until late January. His tie for 17th at the Masters last month helped, but given Woods does not play week-in and week-out on tour, he must make the most of every tournament that he does play.
Rankings points are divided by the number of tournaments each golfer plays, with the minimum divisor being 40. The previous seven seasons, Woods played a total of seven, 16, 19, nine, 12, 17 and six PGA Tour events, never reaching 40 tournaments for a two-year total (on the PGA Tour, at least). If he does not play 40 tournaments in the two years before the July 11, 2016 cutoff, he’s leaving ranking points on the table.
Woods said he will play more events from here on out. His announced future events are the Memorial and U.S. Open in June and the Greenbrier Classic, British Open and Quicken Loans National in July. It will mark Woods’ second appearance ever at the Greenbrier Classic, which debuted in 2010. The other four tournaments are Woods regulars, when healthy.
“Making my way up from where I’m at is just going to take consistency, and I need wins in there,” said Woods, who hasn’t won since August 2013. “It’s something that I’ve done when I’ve made my comebacks before.”
Woods climbed from No. 58 on Nov. 5, 2011, to No. 6 on March 24, 2012, and eventually No. 1 on March 23, 2013. He won eight combined PGA Tour events in 2012 and 2013 after winning zero in 2010 and 2011.
Woods compared the Olympics’ importance for golfers to tennis players, who also play four major tournaments every season that carry more prestige than the Olympics.
“In tennis, it means a lot to them now,” Woods said of the Olympics’ growth for tennis players, since it was added as an official sport in 1988. “But the first year you got mixed messages from the guys because they’re saying, OK, I need the rest, blah, blah, blah. … I’ve heard some things over the years with golf when it got introduced [in 2009], guys were kind of on the fence about it [such as Adam Scott], but certainly I think it’s swaying in the direction of guys all wanting to play in it.”
Also Tuesday, Woods commented on a “brutal” last three days that included the announcement that he and Olympic champion Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn ended their relationship and the nine-year anniversary of his father’s death, both on Sunday.
“I haven’t slept,” Woods said.