By Larry Fine
PARAMUS New Jersey (Reuters) – Tiger Woods, battling back from a back injury, still drives fan interest and TV ratings and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is as keen as the former world number one himself that he has a big 2014 finish.
Finchem told reporters on Tuesday there would be no medical exemptions made for the elite season-ending FedExCup playoffs, where the starting field is determined by points earned during the regular season.
However, he was not counting Woods out of the PGA Tour finale, even though he languishes 215th on the list with only the top 125 qualifying for the playoffs and time fast running out.
“It’s a year-long competition,” Finchem said at media day for next month’s playoffs opening Barclays tournament at Ridgewood Country Club. “It (an exemption) kind of muddies up the comparative nature of the competition.”
Woods is a massive 358 points outside the cut line for the four-event playoffs having played only five PGA Tour events this season, but he has two big chances to make up ground at venues where he has had great success.
This week, Woods will tee it up at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational starting on Thursday at Firestone Country Club where he has won eight times.
Then comes the Aug. 7-10 PGA Championship at Valhalla in Louisville, Kentucky, where Woods won the 2000 PGA crown.
“I’m looking forward to that player that you’re referring to (Woods)…he’s got a couple tournaments coming up where he’s won on both golf courses and one on which he’s won a lot of times,” Finchem said.
“So I’m not one of those who are pessimistic about his immediate or long-term future in the sport.”
RYDER CUP INCLUSION
A win at either tournament would catapult Woods into the FedExCup competition and also cement the American’s case for inclusion on the U.S. Ryder Cup team to take on Europe at Gleneagles in Scotland from Sept. 26-28.
Woods matched Finchem’s optimism at Monday’s media day for the Aug. 29-Sept. 1 Deutsche Bank Championship, the second FedExCup event.
“The speed is developing. The speed is coming back, I continue to get stronger,” said Woods, who missed nearly four months after having back surgery and whose best finish this year was a tie for 25th at the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March.
“I’ve gotten stronger, but we’re just now introducing explosive training…which is nice. I’m excited about that.”
It has not been all work for Woods, who took some time off after finishing 69th at the British Open to relax ahead of what he hopes will be a strong finish to the 2014 campaign.
“The past week I was with my kids, we were on a little vacation,” Woods said. “And Lindsay (girlfriend Vonn) and myself and the kids, we just had a blast.
“And I was taking them out and we hit some balls. We had a good little time. We toured a little bit and even played a little putt-putt, which I won every single time,” the ever competitive Woods said, drawing laughs from the press corps.
(Reporting by Larry Fine; Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)