It didn’t take long for the PGA Tour once again to revert to “Tiger Woods and everyone else.” That same old song, revitalized with Woods’ recent on-course resurgence, will be sung in full throat next week at the first of four FedExCup playoff events, The Northern Trust at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.
And as much as those running the tournament want to say it isn’t all about Woods, it is difficult to downplay his contribution to the anticipation of the tournament. Just last week, Woods’ run near the top of the leaderboard in the PGA Championship brought a 73 percent increase in final-round ratings on CBS as compared to the previous year, when he was still sidelined while recovering from his four back surgeries.
“Tiger is always someone that everyone focuses on, and it’s good to have him healthy and competing and playing again at the top of a leaderboard,” tournament executive director Julie Tyson told The Post. “For sure, that is amazing, and it’s always good for fans and for the game. But there are the other storylines, too.”
“Tiger is always someone that everyone focuses on, and it’s good to have him healthy and competing and playing again at the top of a leaderboard.”
Though ticket sales have been steady for the loyal golf fans of the New York metropolitan area, Woods has certainly brought more interest to this year’s event. And Tyson had a prediction for what might get people off the couch and to the golf course.
“I think The Tiger Factor, while it’s important, I’m certain it will help us next week when I think he’s going to shoot 62 out of the gate, that’s my prediction,” said Tyson, remembering when Woods shot 65 in the opening round of this tournament at Ridgewood in 2010. “I’m sure that will wake some additional people up. Probably what I think has happened is anybody that was on the fence, when Tiger played as well as he did [at the PGA], it moved them into, ‘I’m going to buy a ticket,’ as opposed to hanging back and waiting.”
Of course, Woods didn’t win that PGA Championship, instead watching as Brooks Koepka ran away for his second major championship of the season, following a defense of his U.S. Open crown at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island in June. Some of the world’s top players have also been in form recently, including Justin Thomas — who would have been the likely candidate for Player of the Year before Koepka’s PGA win — as well as Justin Rose and Jason Day. Even Brandt Snedeker made headlines Thursday when he shot the 10th sub-60 round in PGA Tour history, posting a 59 at the Wyndham Championship in North Carolina.
“There are a lot of guys that are sort of hovering around,” said Tyson, who has worked for the PGA Tour for over a decade and is in her second year running this tournament, which used to be called The Barclays. “I love the notion that it’s anybody’s tournament to win when they show up here.”
It was hardly a sure thing Woods was even going to be eligible to play in this event, which is restricted to the top 125 in the year-long FedExCup standings. But with a solid run this season, he is currently ranked No. 20 in the chase for the $10 million final prize. What might be even more interesting is that Woods has been very close to winning since his return, and his first victory since 2013 could seemingly come at any tournament he enters.
The one thing about Ridgewood that might not play into his favor is the recent rain that has allowed the rough to grow to a gnarly length, what Tyson called “punishing.” The one thing in Woods’ game that hasn’t returned is accuracy off the tee, and it could undercut his chance to win this first playoff event.
“Whoever can keep the ball in the fairway has a distinct advantage out of the gate,” Tyson said.
There are also quite a few amenities for the fans that have been added, including food options from places like The Palm, Shake Shack and Luke’s Lobster, as well as a craft beer garden at the tents next to the green of the short par-4 fifth hole, where Phil Mickelson hit his ball among the fans the most recent time this tournament was here in 2014.
So if it was already going to be a good tournament, Woods now is the cherry on top.
“I think New Yorkers and the people in New Jersey are really discerning, and you better bring your ‘A’ game to this market. And we do,” Tyson said. “We luck out because it’s almost an embarrassment of riches with the field that we get here.”