Tiger staying busy during "vacation"

Updated: October 12, 2006, 1:21 PM ET
By Tim Rosaforte | GolfDigest.com

Last weekend, there was a "Block Party" for the Tiger Woods Foundation in California, where Tiger jammed with rockers Glenn Frey and Joe Walsh, laughed at comedian Kevin James and cooked with the famous chef, Bobby Flay. Tuesday night, he was on Leno. Wednesday, he chatted with Ellen DeGeneres and launched the 2007 Tiger Woods EA Sports game.

This is a busy time of year for Tiger Woods. While everybody shuts it down, he cranks it up for one last push of fundraisers, public appearances and commercial shoots before the traditional trans-Pacific crossing at the end of a long, grueling season. Thus, the "down time" right now, the decision to pass on the Vardon Trophy while his six-tournament win streak percolates until the Tour Championship.

The beauty of Woods is that while we're left to evaluate 2006 vs. 2000, he's working on 2007 and beyond. "People want to compare it to the past," Woods said after his eight-stroke win in the American Express Championship. "And I'm trying to get better for the future."

Part of that means knowing how to schedule, how to pick your spots, ride the highs, avoid the lows, be ready when it means something, learning how to prioritize your time.

There's a local cry for him in Orlando to play the Funai Classic at Walt Disney World next week in suburban Orlando. After all, it's only 15 minutes from Isleworth, he's won it twice, and playing the way he's playing, taking it low shouldn't be a problem. Plus, it would qualify him for the Vardon Trophy, and by skipping it, he would be one round short of the required 60 to win the PGA of America award.

These are all good points, but East Lake, with 30 players, on a hard-and-fast course, is a better fit for the streak to stay alive. A victory would be his ninth of the year (not including a win over Ernie Els in Dubai), tying the win total of 2000. The Vardon, he can live without. He's got six of them. He'll win the Byron Nelson trophy anyway, playing the necessary 50 rounds. But when you get right down to it, Woods is more about the "W's" than he is the stroke-play titles.

Surprisingly, there have been no wins at East Lake. He has played well there, but not the usual Tiger Woods air-tight on Sunday, getting passed by Phil Mickelson in 2000 and Retief Goosen in 2004 -- two of the three times that he's failed to protect a third-round lead that he either owned or shared. The other 40 third-round leads he brought home, none more comfortably than the most recent blowout at The Grove in England.

After East Lake, Woods plays the HSBC in Shanghai, goes for a three-peat at the Dunlop Phoenix, stops off in Hawaii on his way home for the PGA Grand Slam, then hosts the Target World Challenge. He shuts it down for two weeks, celebrates his 31st birthday and gears up for 2007. Right now he's holding his usual suite at the Ritz-Carlton in Kapalua, not 100 percent for the Mercedes Benz Championship but more likely to play than this year, when his dad was near death.

Last year at this time, Woods missed the cut at Disney and flew to California to be at his father's bedside. He spent six weeks with him in December and January and missed nine weeks leading up to and following his passing in May.

So when you get right down to it, all the victories, the two majors, the proof that Hank Haney's model of a golf swing was a better fit, the mature, polished way he destroyed everyone in golf the second half of 2006, the fact that he's established himself as Tiger Woods again really means nothing.

Asked how he would remember the year, Woods told reporters at The Grove, "A loss."

Tuesday night, with Leno, he was in much brighter spirits, talking about his rap-gangsta version of the Stanford fight song that he broke out in the team room at the Ryder Cup, ripping the weight and golf swing of good friend Charles Barkley, and pitching his new video game. Tiger Woods was loose and smiling a lot, so he must be fairly confident about the future.

Tim Rosaforte is a senior writer for Golf World magazine

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