Woods faces a light pre-Masters schedule

Tiger Woods acknowledges the crowd on the 18th green during the second round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

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If Tiger Woods skips the upcoming WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship – and sources have indicated that he will – several reasons will have factored into the decision.

But there’s also enough data to suggest that Woods isn’t deviating from a pre-Masters preparation that he has favored since turning 35 three years ago.

By and large, since committing the Honda Classic to his schedule in 2012, Woods has not enjoyed going coast-to-coast for three consecutive tournaments – the Accenture in Marana, Ariz., then to south Florida for the Honda and the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

• Woods' website announces no Match Play, adds Honda Classic

For those who express surprise, given that Woods has won the Match Play three times, understand this: It used to be that Woods actually played a West Coast swing, and the Match Play at LaCosta Resort in California was the climax to it. In 2003, Woods won his first Match Play, after having played at Torrey Pines and Riviera, then he won again in 2004, after having played at Kapalua, Torrey Pines and Riviera.

His most recent Match Play title came in 2008, the second year at Dove Mountain in Marana. But that was the Gallery Course; since 2009, the event has been played at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain (formerly called the Ritz-Carlton GC) with its massive roller-coaster greens and collection areas that seemingly funnel balls into downtown Tucson. In four tries at this venue, he has lost twice in Round 1 and twice in Round 2, never appearing happy to be in attendance.

Although Woods certainly doesn't lack World Golf Championship hardware (he owns 18 trophies), his absence will accentuate what appears to be a rough final year of Accenture’s 16-year run as title sponsor. Having come aboard for the debut of this WGC in 1999, Accenture has had a few years when top names missed for various reasons, but nothing like this time around. Woods, the top seed, is likely to miss, while Nos. 2 (Adam Scott) and 4 (Phil Mickelson) have said they won’t play.

In five tries at the Golf Club at Dove Mountain, Scott has lost in the first round four times and in the second round once. He has developed a formula for preparing for the Masters, which he won last spring, and it does not include this mountain-top locale where rain, sleet, and snow have been known to visit during championship week. As for Mickelson, he contends the week is better spent with his kids during their school vacations.

Another player who could be absent is No. 5 Justin Rose (shoulder pain), who will tee it up in Los Angeles next week, then decide whether to play the Match Play.

But putting aside the questions about the future of the Match Play Championship (title sponsors are being wooed, and a PGA Tour official conceded that this would be the time to entertain changes, perhaps including the venue, date and format), if Woods skips, he will elicit debate about his light workload leading into the Masters.

Having already played three rounds at the Farmers Insurance Open and four at the the Dubai Desert Classic, Woods will also play in the Honda Classic (Feb. 28 - March 2), the Cadillac Championship (March 6-9), and the Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 20-23).

On the surface, it would appear that five tournaments (or 19 rounds, presuming he makes the cuts) is not much of a lead-up to a major that stirs his passion like no other. Fact is, that’s not much different than what he’s been doing in recent seasons. Last year, Woods played in six tournaments, but only 21 rounds, before Augusta; in ’12, it was 21 rounds over six tournaments; in 2011, it was five tournaments and 17 rounds. (The exhibition Tavistock Cup is not factored into these numbers.)

The year 2010 was an aberration, because Woods’ personal-life crisis sidelined him for months and the Masters was his season debut. Coming off of a lengthy hiatus to recover from knee surgery, Woods in 2009 played just three tournaments and 10 rounds before teeing it up at the season’s first major.

Woods has played 20 more competitive rounds before the Masters just three times in the last seven seasons. This philosophy seems to be a concession to age and concerns about excessive wear and tear on a body that has taken some hits. The thing is, though, that Woods’ history indicates his Masters wins came after busy stretches of play.

He played eight tournaments and 31 rounds before winning in 1997, eight times and 32 rounds before his historic 2001 triumph, eight times and 29 rounds before successfully defending in 2002, and seven times and 26 rounds in 2005, which stands as his most recent win at Augusta.

All of which prompts one to suggest that perhaps Woods should get out and play a little more often.

Good luck with that.

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