THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – En route to Magnolia Lane over the years, Tiger Woods has nearly always followed the same roadmap on his inner GPS.
Play a few tournaments in Florida, sharpen his game at his compound in the Sunshine State, occasionally make a reconnaissance trip to Augusta National.
This year, however, with COVID-19 turning the world upside down, the five-time Masters champion, and this year’s defending champion, finds himself in California three weeks before the unprecedented November Masters.
“My run-up to Augusta is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Woods said Tuesday after a 9-hole practice round at Sherwood Country Club, home this week to the relocated Zozo Championship at Sherwood. “That’s just the way it is. The whole idea is to be ready in a few weeks and whether or not that’s playing one more event, whether that’s Houston or just playing here at Zozo, I’m just making sure that I’m ready for Augusta.
“(The Masters) is not normally this time of year. We’re not in a Florida swing. This is all different. This whole year’s been different for all of us. I can’t simulate the normal ramp-up that I normally have, and I don’t think anyone else can either.
“It will be different for all of us.”
What does feel familiar to Woods is Sherwood. From 2000-2013, Woods hosted what is now known as the Hero World Challenge at this hilly Jack Nicklaus track some 40 miles north of downtown Los Angeles. Woods played 12 times during that stretch and won five times, finished second five times, tied for fourth and tied for 14th in 2005. His scoring average in those 48 rounds was 68.46.
When Woods saw Sherwood for the first time in seven years on Tuesday, a homey feel took over. Yes, the course has changed but Woods can call upon all that success he has had here this week.
“The shape of the golf course hasn’t changed, but the greens have changed since the last time I’ve played,” Woods said. “They’re a little bit flatter, a little bit bigger. Some of the contours are gone and so it’s a bit different. It’s on the softer side, and I think that some of the redesign that they’ve done here and the redo has made this golf course certainly more member-friendly.
“I think that the scores will be awfully low this week.”
Tiger Woods tees off on the second hole during the third round of the World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California on Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012.
Woods has always gone low here at Sherwood, with one reason being the man he’s chasing for the most major championships in golf: Nicklaus.
“Well, this golf course is typical Jack. It’s pretty open in the fairways, but the second shots are very difficult and you have to miss the golf ball in the correct spots,” Woods said. “My iron game has been one of the stable parts of my game and normally Nicklaus golf courses reward good iron play. Over the course of my entire career, I’ve won on a lot of Nicklaus golf courses because of that.”
Woods hasn’t won since he captured his record-tying 82nd PGA Tour title last fall in Japan in the inaugural Zozo Championship. In fact, this will be Woods’ first title defense since the 2014 World Golf Championships-Firestone Invitational, as he didn’t make it to the 2019 Tour Championship to defend his 2018 title and he has yet to be able to defend his 2019 Masters victory.
The former world No. 1 has slipped to No. 28 and has just one top-10 in seven starts in 2020. He missed the cut in his most recent start in the U.S. Open last month. While he’s been bothered by his surgically repaired but still troublesome back at times, he said he’s healthy and ready to resume his trek to the Masters.
“My game’s definitely better than it was at the U.S. Open,” he said. “I feel a little bit more prepared, a little bit better, and hopefully that translates into playing the golf course.”
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