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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Coco Gauff rallies past 16-year-old at French Open

Coco Gauff French Open

Coco Gauff rallied to defeat 16-year-old Russian Mirra Andreeva in the French Open third round in Gauff’s first Grand Slam singles match against a younger opponent.

The sixth seed Gauff, the 2022 French Open runner-up, outlasted Andreeva 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-1 to reach the fourth round, where she will play Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova or American Kayla Day.

Gauff could play top seed and defending champ Iga Swiatek in the quarterfinals. Swiatek on Saturday thumped 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu of China 6-0, 6-0, winning 50 of the 67 points in a 51-minute match.

FRENCH OPEN DRAWS: Women | Men | Broadcast Schedule

This week, Andreeva became the youngest player to win a French Open main draw match since 2005 (when 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria made the quarterfinals). She was bidding to become the youngest to make the last 16 of any major since Gauff’s breakout as a 15-year-old.

The American made it that far at 2019 Wimbledon (beating Venus Williams in her Grand Slam main draw debut) and the 2020 Australian Open (beating defending champion Naomi Osaka) before turning 16. At last year’s French Open, Gauff became the youngest player to make a Grand Slam final since Maria Sharapova won 2004 Wimbledon at 17.

This was only Gauff’s third match against a younger player dating to her tour debut in 2019. It took Gauff 50 Grand Slam matches to finally face a younger player on this stage, a testament to how ahead of the curve she was (and still is at age 19).

While Gauff is the only teenager ranked in the top 49 in the world, Andreeva is the highest-ranked player under the age of 18 at No. 143 (and around No. 100 after the French). And she doesn’t turn 17 until next April. Andreeva dropped just six games in her first two matches at this French Open, fewest of any woman.

Gauff is the last seeded American woman left in the draw after No. 3 Jessica Pegula, No. 20 Madison Keys and No. 32 Shelby Rogers previously lost.

The last U.S. woman to win a major title was Sofia Kenin at the 2020 Australian Open. The 11-major span without an American champ is the longest for U.S. women since Monica Seles won the 1996 Australian Open.

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Rafael Nadal expected to miss rest of 2023 season after surgery

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal is expected to need five months to recover from arthroscopic surgery for a left hip flexor injury that kept him out of the French Open, effectively ruling him out for the rest of 2023 ATP tournament season.

Nadal underwent the surgery Friday night in Barcelona on the eve of his 37th birthday. He posted that, if all goes well, the recovery time is five months.

The timetable leaves open the possibility that Nadal could return for the Nov. 21-26 Davis Cup Finals team event in Malaga, Spain, which take place after the ATP Tour tournament season ends.

Nadal announced on May 18 that he had to withdraw from the French Open, a tournament he won a record 14 times, due to the injury that’s sidelined him since January’s Australian Open.

Nadal also said he will likely retire from professional tennis in the second half of 2024 after a farewell season that he hopes includes playing at Roland Garros twice — for the French Open and then the Paris Olympics.

When Nadal returns to competition, he will be older than any previous Grand Slam singles champion in the Open Era.

Nadal is tied with Novak Djokovic for the men’s record 23 Grand Slam singles titles.

While Nadal needs to be one of the four-highest ranked Spanish men after next year’s French Open for direct Olympic qualification in singles, he can, essentially, temporarily freeze his ranking in the top 20 under injury protection rules.

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