During golf’s latest test, where is Tiger Woods (and where’s his yacht)?

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Golf fans are desperate to see Tiger Woods back in action, but the sport is taking center stage without its biggest name.

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Tiger Woods reappeared this past weekend. But his reappearance didn’t come at Harbour Town alongside a field of the world’s best golfers. Instead, it came at Frederica Golf Club, a St. Simon’s Island oasis where a nearby golfer snagged a short video of Woods and his son Charlie teeing it up. Tiger looked good: untucked Nike shirt, powerful swing, easy weight shift. Charlie looked unimpressed.

We didn’t hear from Woods, of course. Not before, when we were curious about his playing schedule. Not during — Woods tends to keep all his excursions pretty quiet in real time. And not in the days since, as the Tour has taken center stage in the sports world despite its biggest name hanging out at home. This is certainly not a criticism of Woods, who has less-than-zero obligation to tee it up in public during a global pandemic. But it served as further reminder that this is the new normal with Woods and the Tour: he’ll enter the conversation (and the tournaments) occasionally and always on his terms.

The four-second clip from Frederica revealed plenty. Plenty of dads and sons teed it up on Father’s Day Sunday. Most fathers aren’t Tiger Woods. Ever since the PGA Tour announced its Return To Golf (all caps, just cuz) fans have eagerly awaited the moment when that Return would include Woods, too. Publications like this one tried to predict when we’d have our first Tiger sighting. Would it come at an unfamiliar venue? He predictably skipped Colonial, but but midway through tournament week the word started spreading that Woods’ yacht was on the move from Florida, headed north.

This yacht-tracking is the sort of thing we’ve started to do in recent years to follow various public figures. It’s a first cousin of the plane-tracking SEC football fans do to track interviewees for head coaching vacancies and, you could argue, a sign of societal decay. Whatever. If people can track Tiger Woods’ boat, they will. And while watching Riggs from Barstool follow Privacy (the boat) up the eastern seaboard was hardly confirmation of anything, it was undeniably intriguing. Why would Woods cruise his 155-footer up to Sea Island the week before the Tour would touch down just up the coast if he had no intention of playing?

But he didn’t play. Not in the Tour event, at least. The word from on the ground was that Davis Love III connected Woods with someone at Frederica and then he and Charlie got out for a round. That was all. The yacht wasn’t bound for Hilton Head and it certainly wasn’t en route to New Haven, Conn. for the Travelers. It’s back in south Florida now, docked nearer Woods’ house.

Wednesday felt like the Tour’s biggest potential moment since play restarted. In recent days, Nick Watney and Cameron Champ had tested positive for the coronavirus but those had still felt like isolated incidents; suddenly another wave of coronavirus-related WDs rolled through. Brooks Koepka and Graeme McDowell withdrew after their caddies, Ricky Elliott and Ken Comboy, tested positive. Chase Koepka pulled out because he’d spent time near Elliott, too. Webb Simpson headed home after a family member tested positive. As McDowell told the AP’s Doug Ferguson: “The snowball is getting a little bigger now.”

As the WDs rolled out, one by one, and golf fans started speculating the whole event could be called, Woods’ account sent out a tweet promoting an auction for a signed Monster staff bag. There was nothing remotely wrong with this — but it exacerbated the divide between the world’s most famous golfer and the day-to-day operations of its top league. Let’s review his 2019-2020 PGA Tour season thus far:

-Won the Zozo Championship

-Made just three total starts, fewer than any player inside the FedEx Cup top 200

-Played as many exhibitions (the Hero World Challenge, the Presidents Cup and The Match II) as Tour events — and played well each time

-Skipped Bay Hill and the Players because he didn’t feel his body was ready

The most coherent narrative here is that Woods has been very good when he’s been fully healthy, but he hasn’t always been fully healthy. When he hasn’t been healthy, he hasn’t forced anything. We should expect that to continue.

Woods has disappeared for various different stretches over the past decade, but this time feels different. He’s no spring chicken, but he’s not hopelessly injured like he was in 2016. He’s not sorting through his personal life like he was in 2010. He’s hardly retired; he’s the defending Masters champ and still the No. 14 player in the world. Instead, he’s being selective. He’s watching and waiting.

To listen to Jay Monahan, the Tour will roll on, this week in Hartford and next week in Detroit and the following two weeks in Columbus. That’s where we’re likely to see Woods, three weeks from now, prepping for the Memorial. The yacht won’t make the trip to Ohio, but the golfer will. With luck, he’ll tell us a little bit more then: the sort of stuff been up to, how he’s feeling, what he thinks of golf’s coronavirus response. Until then, we’ll continue to watch the PGA Tour’s latest chapters unfold — even without its main character.

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com, where he’s told the story of a strange cave in Mexico, a U.S. Open qualifier in Alaska and plenty in between. Dethier joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. He is a Williamstown, Mass., native and a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English. Dethier is the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.