OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. – The onerous task at hand for Tiger Woods is two-fold.
One, he likely needs to finish fourth or better this week in the BMW Championship to advance to next week’s Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta for the FedEx Cup Playoffs finale.
And two, he’ll have to do so at Olympia Fields Country Club, which is primed to tee up U.S. Open conditions.
Other than that …
“I have to play well,” Woods said Wednesday with an emphasis on the second word. “Need a big week this week in order to advance. If I don’t, then I go home.”
The challenge for Woods becomes even more problematic because he has sort of been lost on the golf course since the sport returned after a 13-week break due to COVID-19. In three starts, he’s finished no better than a tie for 37th, and he’s coming off a tie for 58th in last week’s Northern Trust, where he finished 24 shots behind Dustin Johnson at TPC Boston.
And Woods has played only 20 competitive rounds in 2020, just 12 since mid-February. He delayed his return because he wanted to see how the COVID-19 protocols would play out and how safe it would be to return.
“I think that trying to get used to playing and competing again, that’s been one of the things that I’ve been a little bit rusty in that regard,” Woods said. “I’ve just now played enough tournaments to try to have an understanding and feel for what’s going on. Hopefully I can get it going this week.”
It won’t be easy. Then again, Woods has been written off before only to get in the last word. He won a U.S. Open on a broken leg and shredded ligaments in his left knee. Became world No. 1 again after a public scandal. Won the Masters after his back was fused. On and on and on.
So don’t write the epitaph on his season just yet.
Still, the world No. 17 and two-time FedEx Cup champion knows what he’s up against. He’s focusing on positives – his final-round 66 last week put some hop in his step, and he said his body feels just fine.
Plus, he likes the golf course, no matter how difficult it’s going to play. The tree-lined, well-bunkered layout at Olympia Fields is much different these days than when it played host to the 2003 U.S. Open, where Woods tied for 20th.
Some tees have been moved back 60 yards. The routing is different. And there is a whole lot of deep, nasty rough surrounding the holes, which all end with demanding green complexes that will test the putting and chipping talents of the world’s best.
And the course is firm and fast as scalding temperatures made it’s way to the Windy City and don’t look to be leaving anytime soon.
“This golf course is set up more like a U.S. Open than it is a regular Tour event, but this is the playoffs. It’s supposed to be hard,” Woods said. “Pars will be at a premium, putting the ball in the fairway and trying to keep the ball in the correct spots. The greens are quick, hard and firm for now. The weather is supposed to be really hot the next three days and maybe breaking Friday night. But until then this is going to be a very difficult golf course.”
For now, Woods isn’t thinking about needing a top-four finish to advance. He isn’t dialing up a new, urgent game plan due to his predicament in the standings (he’s 57th, with the top 30 moving on). All his focus is on getting around this golf course.
“There’s six, seven inches (of rough) in spots, and it’s gnarly and if we happen to get the weather we’re supposed to get Friday night and then if it gets wet, you’d better hit the ball in the fairway,” Woods said “But the greens right now are getting baked out. They’re hand watering the greens trying to keep them alive and keep them right on the edge, right where they should be.”
In other words, a grueling challenge. Just like Woods’ mission is this week.
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