THOUSAND OAKS (California) • Tiger Woods would normally be a good bet to successfully defend his title at the Zozo Championship which starts today.
He has a knack for dominating at tournaments he likes, and he should be highly motivated as another win would be No. 83, breaking him out of a tie with Sam Snead for most career PGA Tour titles.
But these are not normal circumstances. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament, which is into its second year, has been temporarily moved from Japan to Thousand Oaks, California.
But the Jack Nicklaus-designed Sherwood Country Club is made for Woods.
The 15-time Major champion has five wins and five runner-up finishes in 12 starts when the Hero World Challenge was held here from 2000 to 2013.
So, yes – now he is an even better bet to defend, even if the field will be 78 players.
But why? What is it about Woods and Sherwood?
“I think if I’ve learnt anything over the years from Tiger, it’s how visual he is and how he likes to shape shots,” said former world No. 1 and four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy.
“I think Sherwood, all the holes are framed so nicely and you can see shots there so easily. I can see how Tiger’s done so well there.”
Indeed, Sherwood, set in a valley surrounded by jagged mountains and hillsides, is easy on the eyes.
There are elevated tees and greens, and at 7,098 yards, the course is not what you would call overly long, making it “a great fit” for Woods.
“Sherwood’s the perfect example of get the ball in play and go play your game from there,” said world No. 45 Rickie Fowler.
“And he’s been one of the best iron players of all time, so get the ball in play and then go score from there.”
All the holes are framed so nicely and you can see shots there so easily. I can see how Tiger’s done so well there.
The legend of Woods at this Southern California playground for celebrities – Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, Jane Seymour and Wayne Gretzky are among the members – began when he beat David Duval, two and one, in the made-for-TV Showdown At Sherwood in 1999.
Then Woods really got hot. He beat Vijay Singh by three at the Hero two years later.
He beat Padraig Harrington by two in 2004, Geoff Ogilvy by four in 2006, and Zach Johnson by seven after his 22-under effort in 2007.
Woods birdied the last two holes to beat Johnson again in 2011, his first victory of any kind in over two years since the 2009 Australian Masters, before the latter got his revenge in the 2013 play-off.
Watching that day was Matthew Wolff, then 14, who grew up in nearby Agoura Hills and went to Westlake High School just 11km away.
The 21-year-old, who finished second at last month’s US Open and joint-fourth at the PGA Championship in August, will be in the field at Zozo.
“I’ve played that course 1,000 times,” he said. “I have a bunch of friends that were members there growing up, and I was fortunate enough that they brought me out.
“I’m really looking forward to going home and seeing some family and friends and playing pretty much a home course for me.”
But so is a certain big cat with his eye on No. 83. The legend of Tiger and Sherwood, already chock-full of victories and thrills, may be about to get its own Hollywood ending.