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Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Anything at stake for Tiger in Turkey?

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

As part of a promotional event this week in Turkey, Tiger Woods stood on a massive bridge and drove a golf ball from Asia into Europe, leading to cracks about his frequent inability to keep his tee shots on the same continent.

It might be the most memorable thing he does all week.

Sure, Woods' struggles with the driver remain a storyline and will continue to be of interest as the calendar switches to 2014, his tee shot from the six-lane Bosphorus Bridge an easy punch line.

Tiger Woods
Before teeing it up at this week's Turkish Airlines Open, Tiger Woods took to the Bosphorus Bridge where he hit a driver across the continental border between Europe and Asia.

But unless he hits a bunch of foul balls at the Turkish Airlines Open, or shoots in the 80s, or finishes near the bottom of the 78-player field, is there really much interest at the penultimate event on the European Tour?

Sure, his presence is a big deal in a country that is still wrapping its arms around golf and would one day love to stage an Olympics. And any time Woods tees it up in an official tournament, we watch and take notice.

Woods undoubtedly wants to get back to the business of playing golf and shaking off the recent acrimony surrounding his rules brushes this year that kept his name in the news despite not hitting a meaningful shot since the Presidents Cup last month.

Aside from that, there is little to be gleaned from this week. Woods is in the awkward position of trying to finish up a year that, well, has already finished -- while attempting to gear up for a new season that is, well, really, nearly two months from starting.

"I just want to continue to work on the things that we were working on this summer," Woods said last month about the last two tournaments left on his 2013 schedule, this week's event and the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge next month. "I felt like towards the end of the year, even though I was a little bit dinged up at the end of the year, I was doing some really positive things. To have a five-win season, I've done some pretty positive things to accomplish that. Shore up some of these things, then head off to hopefully next year with some good positive momentum.

"As far as some of the things I'd like to get better at, that's obviously peaking at the right times and getting the four big events next year that I'd like to win. Hopefully I can do that."

And that's the bottom line, isn't it? The major championships are what matter most, and to some, the only tournaments of significance when it comes to following Woods.

How else do you explain the relative indifference to his other success? Woods has won eight times in the past two years -- the career victory total of Dustin Johnson. He had the lowest scoring average, won the most money and is a solid No. 1 in the world following the 2013 season.

And yet, understandably, the focus remains on his inability to win his 15th major, a streak that extends more than five years.

Unfortunately, the next major is five months away. Nothing Woods does this week matters as it relates to Augusta National, the Masters and April -- either way. He can hit it perfect and win, hit it horrible and lose and a lot of things in between and it won't mean anything as far as his major haul is concerned.

That makes this tournament rare. Usually there is something at stake: FedEx Cup points; another PGA Tour title; trying to find his form before a major championship. None of those things are on the line in Turkey.

Yes, he could accumulate more world ranking points, but it's hard to believe Woods is worried about that. A victory would be his 41st on the European Tour, but you wonder if he is even aware of the feat. (Majors and World Golf Championship titles account for 31 of those wins.)

Every round Woods plays is analyzed, but the scrutiny really took hold following his 2011 injury battles when he dropped to 58th in the world. In the aftermath of that as well as his off-the-course scandal, it seemed as if there were a referendum on every swing, every putt, every round, every tournament.

Perhaps the only time he's been in a similar situation over the past two years was at the 2012 CIMB Classic, the PGA Tour-sanctioned event in Malaysia. Unlike this year, the tournament was not part of the FedEx Cup schedule. It was not official. A victory would not have counted in his PGA Tour record.

Woods tied for fourth in a 48-player tournament and other than the world ranking points he earned on his way back to No. 1, it's hard to find much significance in it.

For one of the rare times, you can say the same about his appearance in Turkey -- for which he is being paid quite well. Tournament organizers are using Woods to bring attention to the area and its status as a golf destination.

How Woods fares will, of course, be noted. But no matter what, the real work won't begin until he celebrates his 38th birthday in late December.