Improving Tiger defends Zozo title with Masters in mind

LOS ANGELES: Tiger Woods has improved his game since missing the cut at last month’s US Open, but defends his title at this week’s Zozo Championship with an eye toward next month’s Masters.

The 44-year-old former world number one tries for an unprecedented 83rd career US PGA title starting Thursday at Sherwood Country Club, where Woods once hosted his Hero World Challenge charity event.

“My game is definitely better than it was at the US Open,” Woods said. “I feel a little bit more prepared, a little bit better, and hopefully that translates into playing the golf course.”

Woods won his 82nd career tour title last October in Japan at the Zozo, matching Sam Snead for the all-time record, but the event was moved to California this year in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, giving Woods a chance to repeat as champion on a different but familiar layout.

“I think that having it here and having Zozo come to America and have it come to this venue in particular is fantastic for all of us,” Woods said.

“The fact we’re able to have this championship, it was a big thing for the tour and a big bonus. It’s awesome for us to be able to come back here to Sherwood. It’s a golf course I know well.”

As well as defending his crown, Woods is using the event as a tune-up for the Masters, which was moved from April to November due to the virus outbreak.

Woods said he might play the Houston Open the week before the Masters, but typically takes that week off and tries to ease the strain on his surgically repaired back by seldom playing in consecutive weeks.

“My plan is just to play and practice,” Woods said. “This entire year has been different for all of us. My run-up to Augusta is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. 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 or just playing here at Zozo, just making sure that I’m ready for Augusta.”

Woods has called off this year’s World Challenge, planned for December in the Bahamas, due to Covid-19 issues.

The 15-time major champion notes that Sherwood has undergone some major changes since the last time he played a competitive round on the layout.

“The greens have changed since the last time I’ve played,” he 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 and I think that the scores will be awfully low this week.”

It certainly won't offer the challenge Augusta National will present when Woods defends the green jacket there on Nov 12-15.

“It’s pretty open in the fairways,” Woods said. “But the second shots are very difficult and you have to miss the golf ball in the correct spots.” – AFP