Tiger Woods would normally be a good bet to successfully defend at this week’s ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP. He has a knack for dominating at tournaments he likes, and he’ll be highly motivated.
Another ZOZO win would be No. 83, breaking him out of a tie with Sam Snead for most career PGA TOUR wins.
But these are not normal circumstances; because of the pandemic, the tournament has been temporarily moved from Japan and is now the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP @ SHERWOOD, in Thousand Oaks, California. As in the Jack Nicklaus-designed Sherwood Country Club, where Woods finished first (five times) or second (five times) in 10 of 12 starts at the Hero World Challenge from 2000 to 2013.
So, yes – now he’s an even better bet to defend, even if the field will be 78 players as opposed to the 18 who show up for the unofficial Hero, which has long since moved to Albany in the Bahamas.
But why? What is it about Woods and Sherwood?
“I think if I’ve learned anything over the years from Tiger, it’s how visual he is and how he likes to shape shots. 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,” said Rory McIlroy, who played his first competitive round with Woods at Sherwood.
Indeed, Sherwood, set in a valley surrounded by jagged mountains and hillsides, is easy on the eyes. It was the setting for the opening helicopter scene in every episode of M*A*S*H, and the Dukes of Hazzard was shot there before it was a golf course. There are elevated tees and greens, and at 7,098 yards, the course is not what you would call overly long.
“Sherwood’s the perfect example of get the ball in play and go play your game from there,” said Rickie Fowler, himself a former Hero winner, at Albany in 2017. “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.”
Fowler called Sherwood and Woods “a great fit.”
As legend has it, Robin Hood and The Adventures of Robin Hood were both shot there, featuring screen stars like Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The club name (after the Sherwood Forest) and logo (a Robin Hood-like figure pulling back a bow string) honor that history. So does the Bow and Arrow, an annual member-guest tournament.
The legend of Woods at this SoCal playground to the stars – Will Smith, Justin Timberlake, Jane Seymour and Wayne Gretzky are among the members – began when he beat David Duval, 2 and 1, in the made-for-TV “Showdown at Sherwood” in 1999. Duval’s tee shot hit the famous boulder that Nicklaus left in the middle of the 16th fairway for character.
Then Woods really got hot. He beat Vijay Singh by three at the Hero two years later. He beat Padraig Harrington by two in ’04, Geoff Ogilvy by four in ’06, and Zach Johnson by seven after his 22-under-par effort in ’07. Woods birdied the last two holes to beat Johnson again in 2011. It was Woods’ first victory of any kind in over two years, since the 2009 Australian Masters.
“I know it’s been a while,” he said then of his drought, “but for some reason, it feels like it hasn’t, because coming down the stretch it felt so comfortable.”
He was talking about winning; he just as easily could have been talking about Sherwood.
Johnson got him back in the final Hero at Sherwood in 2013. After Johnson flailed an 8-iron into the water hazard short-right of the 18th green, which he called “the worst shot I’ve hit in a long time,” he took a drop and holed a three-quarter wedge shot from 58 yards. That forced a playoff, which he won – a shocking ending considering Johnson had been four back with eight to play.
“It was pretty impressive what he did,” Woods said then. “He got me.”
“It was kind of redemption,” Johnson said. “It was fun to be in contention with the best player in the world and have really great conversation. My guess is he’d say the same thing. We’d played together enough it didn’t feel that unusual or awkward. I’ve gotten him maybe two to three times in my career, to his – I don’t know. You do the math. It’s got zeroes behind it.”
Watching that day was Matthew Wolff, then 14, who grew up in nearby Agoura Hills and went to Westlake High School just seven miles away. He’ll be in the field for the ZOZO and hasn’t forgotten 2013. “The crowds went crazy,” Wolff said. “And just to do it like on the 18th hole after hitting it in the water was pretty – you know, it was, obviously you couldn’t ask for more than that.
“But, yeah, I can’t really remember much, but I’ve played that course 1,000 times,” he continued. “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.”
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, maybe about to get its own Hollywood ending.- Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.com