Tiger Woods’ road to Tokyo goes through Augusta … and Sawgrass, Kiawah Island, Torrey Pines

Tiger Woods
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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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Mikaela Shiffrin heads to world championships with medal records in sight


Before Mikaela Shiffrin can hold the World Cup wins record, she can become the most decorated Alpine skier in modern world championships history.

Shiffrin takes a respite from World Cup pursuits for the biennial world championships in France. She is expected to race at least four times, beginning with Monday’s combined.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup victories in 23 starts this season, her best since her record 17-win 2018-19 campaign, but world championships do not count toward the World Cup.

Shiffrin remains one career victory behind Swede Ingemar Stenmark‘s record 86 World Cup wins until at least her next World Cup start in March.

Shiffrin has been more successful at worlds than at the Olympics and even on the World Cup. She has 11 medals in 13 world championships races dating to her 2013 debut, including making the podium in each of her last 10 events.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

She enters worlds one shy of the modern, post-World War II individual records for total medals (Norway’s Kjetil Andre Aamodt won 12) and gold medals (Austrian Toni Sailer, Frenchwoman Marielle Goitschel and Swede Anja Pärson won seven).

Worlds take place exactly one year after Shiffrin missed the medals in all of her Olympic races, but that’s not motivating her.

“If I learned anything last year, it’s that these big events, they can go amazing, and they can go terrible, and you’re going to survive no matter what,” she said after her most recent World Cup last Sunday. “So I kind of don’t care.”

Shiffrin ranks No. 1 in the world this season in the giant slalom (Feb. 16 at worlds) and slalom (Feb. 18).

This year’s combined is one run of super-G coupled with one run of slalom (rather than one downhill and one slalom), which also plays to her strengths. She won that event, with that format, at the last worlds in 2021. The combined isn’t contested on the World Cup, so it’s harder to project favorites.

Shiffrin is also a medal contender in the super-G (Feb. 8), despite starting just two of five World Cup super-Gs this season (winning one of them).

She is not planning to race the downhill (Feb. 11), which she often skips on the World Cup and has never contested at a worlds. Nor is she expected for the individual parallel (Feb. 15), a discipline she hasn’t raced in three years in part due to the strain it puts on her back with the format being several runs for the medalists.

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Lucas Braathen, world’s top male slalom skier, in doubt for world championships

Lucas Braathen

Norway’s Lucas Braathen, the world’s top male slalom skier this season, is doubtful to compete in the world championships slalom on Feb. 19 after appendix surgery on Tuesday.

“It’s been a tough couple of days fighting after surprisingly finding out about quite an intense infection on my appendix,” Braathen, a 22-year-old soccer convert with a Brazilian mom, posted on social media. “I’ve been through surgery and I’m blessed that it went successfully.”

The Norway Alpine skiing team doctor said Braathen’s recovery will take a few weeks, but there is a small possibility he can make it back for the world championships slalom, which is on the final day of the two-week competition.

Braathen has two slalom wins and one giant slalom win this World Cup season. He will miss Saturday’s slalom in Chamonix, France, the last race before worlds. Countryman Henrik Kristoffersen and Swiss Daniel Yule can overtake him atop the World Cup slalom standings in Chamonix.

Braathen entered last year’s Olympics as the World Cup slalom leader and skied out in the first run at the Games.

ALPINE SKIING WORLDS: Broadcast Schedule

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