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Tiger Woods could become all-time wins leader this weekend

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Tigers Woods hit balls on the range at the Torrey Pines Golf Course on Tuesday.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Farmers Insurance Open CEO Marty Gorsich has to think about it, even if Tiger Woods chooses not to.

If Woods were to get into serious contention this weekend in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and have a shot to become the all-time wins leader on the PGA Tour, Gorsich’s world would be turned upside down.

Consider, Gorsich says, the powerful people and celebrities who know and love Woods and want to say they were standing behind the South Course’s 18th green when he secured win No. 83 to break a tie with Sam Snead.

Believe Gorisch when he says that behind the scenes there has been more than the usual craziness that accompanies the arrival of Tiger’s circus.

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“As we talk about what we could anticipate that day, and some of the people who feel they need to be here and experience it at the last minute, it goes all the way to the top of the food chain,” Gorsich said.

He held his breath for a short beat.

“That includes our own president,” Gorsch said. “That includes past presidents.”

It is a tournament director’s greatest dream or worst nightmare.

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“I don’t think it’s caught on to people what this moment could be,” Gorsich said. “I think you’ll start to see CBS build on it. I think you’ll see the internet build on it. I don’t think people would fully realize the magnitude unless he shoots lights out on Thursday or Friday.

“The Masters snuck up on everybody. His 82nd win overseas [in Japan] snuck up. This is not going to sneak up on people.”

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That is all fantasy and speculation, of course, and considering Woods picked up his golf clubs one time -- on his birthday to play with his son -- from the end of a triumphant Presidents Cup in mid-December to early January, any expectations that he could manhandle Torrey Pines and a stellar field for a victory here should be seriously tempered.

As CBS golf analyst Nick Faldo said on a conference call last week, referring to Woods’ 2019 victories in the Masters and Zozo Championship, and his 3-0 record in the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne, “He’s only good with minimal rough and pine trees left and right. … I want to see how he plays when he’s got some thick rough.”

Woods, whose last stroke-play tournament round was Dec. 7 in the unofficial Hero World Challenge, in which he finished solo fourth, is no doubt wondering the same thing. Any thought of his next victory is obscured by the everyday effort it takes for him to simply be ready to play.

“I have to think about all the things I need to do to win a golf tournament,” Woods said in his news conference Tuesday. “There’s so many different shots I have to play, and strategy, and thinking my way around the golf course, that I’m consumed by that.”

Asked if he’d considered the scenario painted by Gorsich, of celebrities and dignitaries flocking to soak up history, Woods smiled broadly and said, “Let’s just get there first, OK?”

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For everyone else around golf, to consider Woods’ 83rd win is to savor the possibilities.

Jim Nantz, CBS’s golf anchor, recounted last week that he was walking into an NFL stadium to broadcast a game on the Sunday that Woods won Zozo, and somebody asked him if he was disappointed to not call No. 82.

“My knee-jerk reaction was, we’ll be happy to call number 83,” Nantz said. “Whenever it happens, it’s going to be a great moment in the game.”

While Torrey Pines, where Woods’ has eight pro victories, would be a wholly fitting venue for the milestone, Nantz concocted a potentially juicier scenario: In three weeks’ time in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles -- the site of Woods’ PGA Tour debut as a teen, and where he has never won as a pro.

Gorsich said he has joked with his counterparts for the Genesis on who wants the honor.

“To have it happen in L.A. would be on a whole other level,” Gorsich said.

While some record chases in sports have captured the public’s attention for weeks or months, Woods’ climb toward 83 has been a simmering build, seemingly always overshadowed by his quest to reach Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major victories.

The majors buzz died down during Woods’ prolonged victory slump, but was pumped back up by the Masters win that gave him 15.

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How does Woods compare the two accomplishments?

“It’s being able to win consistently and win a lot,” he said, noting the remarkable statistic that he’s had 10 seasons in which he won at least five times.

“You’ve got to get it in bunches if you want to get to 82 total. Or if you want to go the 18 route and just do what Brooksy’s doing, you can do it that way, too.”

Brooks Koepka has been very un-Woods-like, counting four major victories among a total of seven tour wins.

Observers and peers marvel at how Woods has reached more than 80 victories.

Defending Farmers Open champion Justin Rose, who has 10 PGA Tour wins, said Tuesday, “It’s a number I can’t quite wrap my head around. I was pretty excited to get to double digits.”

Golf commentator and talk show host David Feherty said the skills of the players Woods has faced is immeasurably greater than that of Snead, whose wins spanned from the 1930s to ‘60s.

“A lot of tournaments Sam won -- they weren’t four-round events,” Feherty said. “He was playing against proctologists and people in tweed coats smoking pipes. This is the modern era. It’s an incredible achievement, like most things he’s done. It’s transcendental.”

With his Masters victory, the wire-to-wire win in the Zozo Championship in October, and his captain-turned-hero performance in the U.S. victory in the Presidents Cup, Woods turned back the clock, but he hardly froze it.

He turned 44 on Dec. 30, he’s playing with fused vertebrae in his back, and the depth of his competition could be measured in miles.

In Woods’ threesome for the first two days of the Farmers is Spain’s Jon Rahm, 25, who has nine combined wins on the PGA and European tours, and 22-year-old Southern Californian Collin Morikawa, who already has a PGA Tour victory and was born in 1997, after Woods became a professional.

“It means I’ve been out here awhile,” Woods said.

Later, he added, “It will be different. I don’t have the ability to hit the ball as far as I used to. That was probably the biggest difference. I was one of two guys to the ball over 300 yards consistently when I first came out here. Now, we’ve got 50-plus guys doing the same thing.

“It’s a different ball game, but at the end of the day it’s how many birdies and how many mistakes can you eliminate throughout a round, throughout a tournament, that will lead you to a win. Hopefully, that will be the case for me this week.”


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