The last time the Masters Tournament was held, nearly 19 months ago, Tiger Woods won his fifth Green Jacket and vaulted in the U.S. Olympic qualifying standings from seventh alternate to second overall in the race for four spots in Tokyo.
Much has changed since.
Woods goes into his title defense at Augusta National this week ranked 33rd in the world — and, more importantly for Olympic qualifying scenarios, 18th among American men.
The best-case scenario this week — Woods repeating as champion — would still leave him several spots outside of Olympic qualification with seven months left until the cutoff, according to rankings projectionist @VC606 on Twitter.
For Woods to qualify for the Olympics at age 45, he must also perform well in at least one significant tournament in 2021 — such as The Players in March, the Masters in April, the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, S.C., in May and the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, Calif., in June.
The usual caveat: Woods would qualify for the Olympics if he was from most other nations, but the U.S. is so deep that it’s almost certain that golfers ranked in the top 15 in the world will not be eligible for the Tokyo Games.
Recent strong play by a bevy of Americans is just one reason for Woods’ recent rankings drop.
The fact that Woods plays so few tournaments — eight so far in 2020 — hurts him, too. Rankings — and, therefore, the Olympic field — are determined by dividing total points by the number of tournaments played in a two-year span, with a minimum divisor of 40 and a maximum of 52.
Any golfer who plays fewer than 40 tournaments is essentially passing on opportunities for points. Woods has played 27 events in the current world rankings window, the fewest of any man ranked in the top 164. How much of Woods’ lack of tournament play is due to his health, and how much is personal preference? Only Woods, who for years has been very selective, can say.
“How many events do I play, do I add a couple more to get in?” Woods said in May 2019 when asked about his scheduling for an Olympic run by NBCSports.com. “These are all questions that will be answered going forward. I just know that if I play well in the big events like I did this year, things will take care of itself.”
Woods hasn’t played well in the big events this year. His best finish since the start of February is a tie for 37th.
A golfer ranked 33rd in the world would qualify for just about every other significant tournament. But not the Olympics, a difficult situation as top Americans in several other sports can attest.
“For me personally, I wish that they would have gone with, let’s say, the top 50 guys in the world,” Woods said in June 2016, when it was clear he would not qualify for the Rio Games after an extended injury absence. “But I understand they’re trying to promote the game of golf and give more participants a chance to be part of the Olympic experience and be a part of golf. And try to get more of these countries that have not traditionally been part of golf to be a part of it.”
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