The reasons for Tiger Woods to skip the Farmers Insurance Open seem obvious. He will get a hefty appearance fee for playing in Abu Dhabi. The tournament will see him face some of the worlds top golfers. Woods himself mentioned the tournament sponsor HSBC and the good relationship he has with them.
At the same time, the decision to play at Pebble Beach seems obvious. Woods' major sponsor, AT&T, sponsors the event. It is the site of his most dominant victory at the 2000 U.S. Open. Finally, it is one of the most spectacular courses in the world.
What is being lost in this schedule change is a certain club Tiger has struggled with. Yes, that would be his notorious driver. While Tiger has shown great improvement in recent events, the driver remains a big question mark. Two horrible drives probably cost him the Australian Open, and the club got very little work at Chevron and the Presidents Cup.
Torrey Pines South Course stretches over 7,500 yards, and the driver is a must on numerous holes. The host course of the Farmers Insurance Open underwent a redesign by Rees Jones in preparation for the 2008 US Open. Tiger famously won that event, but his next appearance was very lackluster.
He seemed on his way to a strong showing, but a 74 and a 75 on the weekend dropped him to a 44th-place finish. The more penal nature of the course made it a much different venue from the one that he seemingly won on at will in years prior. His body language was very poor, and frankly it looked as if he mailed it in.
It is perfectly fine for Woods to dislike the course. Phil Mickelson has been a vocal critic of the redesign. Considering that Woods' favorite course is St. Andrews, the drastically different challenge could be unappealing to him.
For the sake of his own game, he should play at Torrey Pines. Woods has talked about needing to get tournament reps in to really lock down his new swing. He is going to need the driver in the upcoming majors and this would be a perfect tournament to test it out.
Instead, Woods will head to the UAE for money he really doesn't need. While the course measures nearly the same length as Torrey Pines, the yardage is misleading. Three Par 5s of nearly 600 yards and a fourth at over 550 yards bump up the total yardage.
Alvaro Quiros won the Dubai Desert Classic last year. He is one the longest hitters in pro golf but struggles with accuracy. Wind is also a factor at Abu Dhabi, which Woods excels in. Simply put, Torrey Pines is a better test for the driver then the desert link style courses found in the UAE.
Pebble Beach can be played without using the driver on any hole. The pro-am nature of the tournament also in no way resembles a serious tournament. You won't see Bill Murray dressed like a clown and acting like a buffoon while the Masters is being contested. Monterey Peninsula and Spyglass Hill, the other tournament courses, also do not require great use of the driver.
The driver was never Woods' strong point; however he needs to improve. Missing the fairway is acceptable. Leaving yourself with no shot is not. From his choices of tournaments, it seems to me that he is going to try to win using the big stick as little as possible. He has also mentioned that he is much longer now, so perhaps he's convinced himself that he does not need the driver to win.
Tiger knows he is capable of winning again. He knows that his swing has improved greatly since his disaster at the PGA Championship. However, he has left the driver behind in his improvement. That makes his goal of 19 majors much more difficult.