The PGA Tour’s season-opening Tournament of Champions, played at the Plantation Course at Kapalua, is hardly what its grandiose name suggests. Golf's first event of 2013 is lacking in star power.
In the Champions' rather cozy field of 30 Tour pros, just three of the participating golfers are in the top 10 of the current Official World Golf Rankings, and none of the world's top seven golfers are present. The highest-ranking competitors include Bubba Watson, Jason Dufner and Brandt Snedeker, but the absence of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and even Luke Donald definitely hurts.
Aside from stating the obvious—that the tournament’s wow-factor would be higher with TW in there—we’re going to explore a key reason why Tiger should have played in Kapalua.
Despite the course's beautiful Hawaiian vista (below, it's hard to miss), Woods hasn't played in the Tournament of Champions in eight straight years. This comes after his victories at the event in 1997 and 2000, according to the folks over at SB Nation. It was called the Mercedes Championships back then.
As our peers so ardently point out, current sponsor Hyundai "has yet to extend its contract beyond 2013," adding that "[t]hings would look a lot brighter if event officials could attract the needle-movers to Maui."
Now, to be clear, it's this author's opinion that Tiger doesn't owe the game of golf anything by deciding against playing in the Champions.
In fact, the reason we think he's missing out by not participating is purely performance-based.
Consider the following quote from Woods' latest blog post on his official website, dated December 17th:
I don't really think about milestones like tournament earnings. I just think about winning tournaments, and all those things will take care of themselves. I just need to win for a long period of time. [...] Looking ahead to next year, I'm just trying to win those big four tournaments, and obviously try to use other events to prepare for them and try to win them as well.
Obviously, the "big four" that Tiger mentions are 2013's majors: the Masters, the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and the PGA Championship.
Due to the fact that the first major on deck is Augusta National's Masters, it's curious that Tiger isn't choosing to use the Tournament of Champions "to prepare," as he mentions.
In the years between his first win at Kapalua (1997) and his final year at the competition (2005), Tiger won an astounding four Masters tournaments, notching two other top 10s.
Since deciding to sit out of the season opener, Tiger has failed to win the Masters, notching six top 10s in seven tries.
Why does this matter?
Well, aside from having reduced success in the first major of the year post-Kapalua, Tiger's performance in the other three major tournaments has suffered as well.
Between 1997 and 2005, Woods won the U.S. Open twice, the Open Championship twice and the PGA Championship twice.
Between 2006 and 2012, Woods has won just once at the U.S. Open and Open Championship each and has claimed two PGA Championships.
While there surprisingly isn't much of a linkage between Tiger's victories at Augusta and his performance at the rest of any given year's majors, it is worth noting that 10 of his 14 majors came before he stopped playing the PGA Tour's season opener at Kapalua.
Now, there's no way to prove that correlation translates into causation, as the old statistician's phrase goes.
In other words, we cannot conclude that Tiger's post-Kapalua performance in majors has been worse because of his decision not to play in the tournament. For example, his various injuries in 2008 and 2011 may have played a role in why he didn't play at the tournament, while simultaneously effecting his ability to perform at his highest level in the majors.
Still, the split that we've mentioned above is uncanny.
Perhaps it was the top-tier field that Tiger historically faced at Kapalua or the relaxing Hawaiian breeze, but the statistics don't lie; he performed at his best in majors when he got into competitive golf earlier in the year.
It's clear that if Tiger's main focus is truly on winning the "big four," he might do best by trying to recapture the mojo of his early years by starting each season out with a luau, so to speak.