Tiger Mania II? In 2 years, the U.S. Senior Open could be must-see TV as Tiger goes for history

The U.S. Senior Open is being held at a fantastic venue this week at Newport Country Club in Rhose Island, but two years from now it will take on an entirely different profile at the Scioto Country Club in Columbus, Ohio.

At the course that shaped Jack Nicklaus into an 18-time major winner, Tiger Woods will be eligible for the field for the first time, and he’s strongly hinted that he’d like to win the title and fancies the chance to break a tie of nine USGA national championships with Bobby Jones. Winning at Scioto would make Woods the first player to achieve a Grand Slam of sorts: the U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Junior (3), U.S. Amateur (3) and U.S. Open (3).

“He’d love to win that Grand Slam and get some of the other senior majors on his CV,” Padraig Harrington said. “I saw him at the course (during the PNC Championship) and we were just crossing paths and he laughed at me. I won’t say exactly what he said but the gist of it was he can’t wait to get out and beat me.”

Tiger Mania II could be ready to strike the PGA Tour Champions, and PGA Tour Champions President Miller Brady cannot wait. Two years ago, at the American Family Insurance Championship in Madison, Wisconsin, Brady waited out a rain delay in an equipment trailer with tournament host Steve Stricker when Stricker broached the topic of the eligibility age for the senior circuit. Stricker, the leading money winner last season, proposed it was time to revisit whether 50, the age restriction since the creation of the tour in 1980, still made sense as the start of golf’s ultimate mulligan.

“I said, ‘No, we just did this,’ ” recalled Brady of a study the tour conducted in 2021. “He goes, ‘I know, I know.’ I said, ‘Unless Tiger tells me he’d play right now. (If that’s the case), I’ll lower the age tomorrow.’ ”

If ever the age limit was going to be lowered, this seemed to be the time so Stricker whipped out his phone and promptly texted Tiger. Stricker’s message was succinct and to the point: If we lower the age would you play the Champions tour? Stricker remembers nervously staring at three bubbles as the 15-time major winner and 82-time PGA Tour champion, “The Needle,” “The Goat,” – take your pick – responded right away.

“No, I’m not ready,” Woods wrote. “I want to follow in the same footsteps as Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Bernhard Langer.”

In short, Tiger doesn’t want a head start before he becomes Champions tour-eligible on Dec. 30, 2025. He wants a level playing field. He wants to chase Langer’s 12 majors and 46 career titles, Nicklaus’s eight majors and Phil Mickelson winning his first two starts (and four of six).

“That’s him, right?” Stricker said. “Tiger’s going to try to erase those records. It gives him something to focus on and try to achieve. If that’s the case, maybe we will get him out more.”

The future of PGA Tour Champions likely hinges on how much Tiger chooses to play after he turns 50 on Dec. 30, 2025. There was a time 15-20 years ago where the idea of Tiger playing the senior tour was unfathomable. He has been hinting for several years now that he wants to play. What started as a joke seems like it could be reality. Asked at the 2021 Hero World Challenge if he looked forward to his upcoming 46th birthday, he smiled and said, “Four more years until I get a cart.”

Left unsaid was the fact the Champions tour allows players to ride in golf carts at most of its events – the majors are an exception. That became all the more relevant after Woods was involved in a single-car crash in February 2022 and required multiple surgeries, including fusing his ankle after he had to withdraw from the 2023 Masters and missed the rest of the season.

During his pre-tournament press conference at that Masters, Woods was asked whether he would consider using a cart in PGA Tour events, something he’s repeatedly declined even though he’d likely be granted use of one via The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) for medical reasons. “I’ve got three more years, where I get the little buggy and be out there with Fred (Couples). But until then no buggy.”

In 2006, the Champions Tour Division Board of the PGA Tour voted to allow players the option to use golf carts during most events on the tour. The circuit’s five major championships and certain other events, including pro-ams, are excluded.

Walking 72 holes has been the biggest hindrance for Woods in his latest comeback and there’s a sense that if he takes one on the senior tour, he could be a force to be reckoned with all over again. “He’ll absolutely kill everybody,” Nicklaus said during the Masters in April in an interview with Golf Channel.

Geoff Ogilvy, who turned 47 on June 11, is counting the days until he too will be eligible. He expects Tiger to play and spark a resurgence in the Champions tour.

“Taking a cart changes everything for him. Interest both from fans and sponsors is going to be through the roof. I think there’s a good chance that Champions Tour ratings can top the PGA Tour when he decides to play. And what else is he going to?” Ogilvy said.

He could delve deeper into golf course architecture or assume a bigger role in the management of the PGA Tour. It’s hard to know what’s really going on in Tiger’s brain. But it could be 1990 all over again when Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino hit the half-century club to join Arnold Palmer and Gary Player and make the senior circuit the biggest game in town. Whenever Nicklaus teed it up, TV ratings for the round bellies topped that of the flat bellies. PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, for one, may not be fond of the Champions tour cannibalizing all those eyeballs from the big tour.

Brady got a sneak-peek of what he can expect from Tigermania II in 2021 when Mickelson turned 50 and took the tour by storm. According to sources, ratings for Mickelson’s win at Furyk & Friends in 2021 eclipsed that of the PGA Tour’s Shriners Children’s Hospital Open the same week.

“Will our ratings go up? Absolutely,” Brady said. “Could I see NBC and Golf Channel wanting to put an event on the network? Yeah. Tiger would have to commit early enough for us to make that happen.”

Much can happen in the course of the next 18 months to influence Tiger’s decision to play, but Brady and his team already have begun preparing for various scenarios. In June 2023, he gathered his staff – “anyone who touches the product,” he said – and got the ball rolling.

“We gathered and started a whiteboard of what ifs, the craziest things, whatever it was, you know, come up with it. Because it’s not too early to just think through everything,” Brady said. “We’ve had conversations at the annual meetings with all of our tournaments about it. You know, you hear comments from time to time about how he can’t wait to have a golf cart. He has conversation with Steve Stricker or Ernie Els or some of these other guys. You know, they’ll come back and tell me they’ll say he’s looking forward to it, which is great. What does that mean? I have no illusions that he’s going to come out here and play 15 times. If he plays four times, that would be fantastic, if he plays 10 times that would be even better.”

Tiger likely will continue to focus on the men’s majors but could he ride around in a cart and endure less stress on his body while still getting the competitive juices flowing and knocking off some rust before the Masters, for example? It seems feasible.

“I don’t think anyone envisions him playing 20 events – he didn’t do that when he was healthy – but if he comes out and plays some events it will be a shot in the arm for us,” Jim Furyk said.

That would be an understatement. Furyk has a different view as an owner and operator of a Champions tour event, Furyk & Friends. He lived through Tiger Mania when Woods turned pro in the summer of 1996 and became a sensation.

“I don’t know if you remember how unprepared we were for the attention, the hoopla, the media, the security, the fans, you name it. If we can get ahead of that and gauge his intentions of what he would like to do it would help our tour massively to be ready and prepared,” Furyk said. “The difference of having him at a tournament versus not is months of preparation. As excited as I am about it, I also run an event and understand how that side of an event gets ready; it makes me cautious. I won’t say nervous because the opportunity is great.”

Brady echoed Furyk’s sentiment.

“If he commits on the Friday before a tournament, we’ve had this conversation with tournaments, they won’t be prepared for it: ticket sales, which turns into an issue with your security, your transportation shuttles, concessions, everything. That was part of that white board that we did,” Brady said.

He confirmed that he’s already had a conversation with Tiger’s agent, Mark Steinberg, to educate him on how things work on that tour.

“We had a great conversation about the Champions tour: how many events we have, the markets where we play, majors, some of the courses where we play early, a little bit about our cart policy,” Brady said. “I don’t see Tiger ever wanting to file for ADA otherwise he would have done that already.”

Stricker suggested the tour (and the other governing bodies) should consider amending its cart policy so that Tiger could ride at the majors, too.

“Let’s make sure he can play. You hate to make special rules but if we can get him out here with a cart, let’s do it, you know what I mean,” he said. “We should do everything we can.”

The addition of Els, Furyk, Harrington and Retief Goosen in the last five years have given the senior tour a boost, but TigerMania II could make the circuit the talk of the golf world again.

“I just want Tiger to come out here and play a little bit,” Brady said. “In an ideal situation, Tiger turns 50 and the Mitsubishi Electric (in January 2026) is his first start. Maybe you pair him with Fred Couples and they have a great time.”

Asked whether he’s made his pitch yet to Tiger to play in his own tournament, Furyk joked that it was too soon.

“He’s getting old,” Furyk said. “He might not even remember by the time he turns 50.”

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek