Tiger Woods feeling blue as he looks to defend ZOZO Championship title
Tiger Woods wears his heart on his neck sleeve.
The legendary golfer pulled up his Dodgers face covering on a video call Tuesday to reveal that familiar intertwined LA logo.
“You see where my heart’s at,” Woods said, talking through the mask. “So yes, I like where we’re at, and the fact we’ve got [Clayton] Kershaw on the bump. Look forward to it.”
It’s no wonder Woods is feeling especially nostalgic this week about his Southern California roots. He’s defending his title in the Zozo Championship, which debuted last year in Japan but was moved because of the pandemic, at Sherwood Country Club.
Talk about a home-course advantage. Sherwood is where Woods has hosted the Hero World Challenge from 2000-2013, finishing first five times and second five more in the unofficial money event.
The Showtime Lakers wowed L.A. at the Fabulous Forum, and the fall produced indelible memories of Kirk Gibson’s fist pump and the Dodgers winning a World Series.
“The shape of the golf course hasn’t changed, but the greens have changed since the last time I’ve played,” said Woods, who practiced on the back nine Tuesday. “They’re a little bit flatter, a little bit bigger. Some of the contours are gone, so it’s a bit different.”
The dramatic undulations of 2020, however, are unmatched. For instance, Woods has been Masters champion for 18 months, and will return to Augusta National next month to defend that 2019 title at a completely different and unfamiliar time of year.
“This whole year’s been different for all of us,” he said. “The fact that the Masters will be held in November, it’s unprecedented, never been done before. I can’t simulate the ramp-up that I normally have, and I don’t think anyone else can either. It will be different for all of us.”
The Zozo field includes 25 of the top 30 players in the official world rankings, including Jon Rahm (No. 2), Justin Thomas (3), Collin Morikawa (4), Rory McIlroy (5), Xander Schauffele (7), Webb Simpson (8), Tyrrell Hatton (9) and Patrick Reed (10).
Dustin Johnson, the world’s No. 1 player, withdrew from the tournament this week because of a positive COVID-19 test. He’s the son-in-law of NHL legend Wayne Gretzky, a Sherwood member.
Sherwood has a rich history beyond the golf world. A half-century before Jack Nicklaus designed the course, the Thousand Oaks site was a filming location for the 1938 movie “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. Subsequently, the area became known as “Sherwood Forest” and “Maid Marian Park.” Recently, several scenes from the movie “Bridesmaids” were shot at the course and in the clubhouse.
Morikawa, who grew up in La Canada-Flintridge, has played the course twice, once during his senior year at the University of California and once as a guest. So he won’t be drawing from a deep well of experience at the place.
“I came out here when I was really young to watch Tiger’s event,” he said. “But I couldn’t tell you anything about that day other than I remember waiting underneath one of the balconies for signatures. Never got one.”
This year’s field includes eight Japanese players, including five-time PGA Tour winner Hideki Matsuyama and Takumi Kanaya, the former top-ranked amateur.
When Woods won this tournament last year, it was his 82nd Tour victory, tying him with Sam Snead for the most ever. He noted that reaching 83 this week will be more difficult than it might have been in years past.
Dodgers co-owner Todd Boehly, speaking at the Milken Institute Global Conference, says MLB is not likely to fully return to normal until 2022.
“Let’s just say that the field is a lot bigger than normally when I have played here,” he said. “I only had to beat 11 guys, so that’s very different.”
The place has all the hallmarks of a Nicklaus course, he said.
“This golf course is typical Jack,” he said. “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. Over the years, my iron game has been one of the stable parts of my game, and normally Nicklaus courses reward good iron play. Over the course of my career, I’ve won on a lot of Nicklaus golf courses, I think, because of that.”
Woods, a five-time Masters champion, typically hasn’t played in the tournament leading up to Augusta. But he left open the possibility of playing in the Vivint Houston Open, scheduled to take place Nov. 5-8.
“My plan is just to play and practice,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to play Houston or not. I’m not playing next week, and we’ll see how this week goes and make a decision from there.”
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