Tiger Woods… acknowledges the crowd after winning the 2019 Zozo Championship in Japan. Pic: Getty Images
Exactly a year after joining Sam Snead at the summit with 82 PGA wins, Tiger Woods is back at the same tournament but at the other end of the world as the Zozo Championship has been shifted from Tokyo to Thousand Oaks, California for 2020.
Strange as it may sound, Woods, who has 107 international wins – 82 of them on the PGA Tour – has not defended a title since July-August 2014 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, from where he withdrew after three rounds.
Since turning professional in 1997, Woods has been winless through a season only six times – in 2010 and 2011 and then four years from 2013-14 to 2016-17. In 2017-18, he won only right at the end of the season at the Tour Championship. He could not defend the title, because he failed to make the Tour Championship in 2018-19.
In 2018-19 he won the Masters, but the 2020 is yet to take place and he won the Zozo Championship in his first appearance in the 2019-20 season and he is in California to defend that one. So it has been a while since Woods has gone into an event as the defending champion. Yet, the strange fact is that Zozo Championship, an event conceived to be held in Japan – a big favourite with Woods – is not being able to hold the event in these times of the pandemic. So? The event comes to one of the courses, Jack- Nicklaus-designed Sherwood Country Club, which Woods can rightfully claim as his ‘backyard’.
There’s a bunch of courses that have produced five or more wins for Woods and the most prominent ones among them have been Torrey Pines, Bay Hills and Firestone, where he has won eight times each. And then, of course, there is the Augusta National Golf Club, where he has worn the Masters jacket five times between 1997 and 2019.
Sherwood is among the select venues, which has seen Woods hoist a Trophy five times. Each of those five times it was his own event the Hero World Challenge – 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2011. Yes, he also won the ‘Showdown at Sherwood’ against David Duval kin 1999. Woods has also finished second five times at HWC at Sherwood and he has five wins and five seconds in 12 starts between 2000 and 2013.
The last time Hero World Challenge was played at Sherwood was 2013 when Zach Johnson bested Woods. The event has since then moved to Albany, Bahamas, where Woods is yet to win.
Ironically, Woods’ own event, the Hero World Challenge, now in Bahamas, stands cancelled for 2020 because of the pandemic. But Woods returns to Sherwood, where he found so much success at the HWC.
So Sherwood it will be this week as Woods and the world await Win No. 83 on the PGA Tour.
Last year Woods in front of large Japanese galleries, led the tournament from start to finish to beat Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, while McIlroy and Sungjae Im of Korea shared third place in the tournament.
Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele, Scottie Scheffler, Adam Scott, Justin Thomas, Matthew Wolff and Gary Woodland are among the top stars set to join defending champion, Woods, McIlroy and Jon Rahm at Sherwood as the field is set at 78 players.
Rising star Matthew Wolff, who is having a great season, went to school close to Sherwood and has played the course many times, so he will be looking forward to it.
Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama, who finished runner-up to Woods when the tournament was played at Accordia Golf Narashino Country Club in Chiba, Japan last October, will headline the Japanese challenge in ‘home-away-from-home’ event for him.
The list of confirmed stars includes Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Spieth.