Tiger Woods gives a demonstration at Diamante’s The Oasis Short Course designed by TGR Design
By Travelin’ Joe Passov
Given what’s happened to our planet, it seems like a million years ago since Tiger Woods last teed it up on the PGA Tour. Actually, it’s only been five months. To put it in more unprecedented context, Tiger is your current Masters champion. He will retain that status for another four months at least. All we can do in July 2020 is to acknowledge the bizarre reality of life as we know it, and grip tight to things that comfort us.
We will watch Tiger Woods play PGA Tour golf again this week. That is pure comfort.
For the first time since the PGA Tour resumed play before no crowds at Texas’ Colonial Country Club in mid-June, Tiger will tee it up in formal competition. In late May, he looked sharp in a televised charity encounter at his home club in Florida, the Medalist, where he traded chips and quips with Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, but to many, the unknowns still linger. They shouldn’t. By choosing to return at the Memorial, Tiger is executing his game plan perfectly. He won’t just expect to feel good, get some reps in and contend. His expects to win. He’s picked the perfect spot.
With Bryson DeChambeau dominating golf coverage with his added bulk and strong finishes, Webb Simpson carrying the torch for the veteran stars and Collin Morikawa setting the pace among the young guns, it’s easy to forget that Tiger will author the golf story of the year if he wins this week. One more ‘W’ and he will break Sam Snead’s all-time record for most victories on the PGA Tour. Will Number 83 happen this week? There’s no better place for it to happen.
Muirfield Village, venue for this week’s Memorial , is special to Tiger in so many ways. It’s not only that he has won five times here, including the only three-peat in the tournament’s 46-year history, back in 1999-2000-2001, it’s also the admiration he has for the golf course, and for its designer, Jack Nicklaus.
“I’ve always played Nicklaus courses well,” said Tiger a few years back. “(At Muirfield Village) there is ample room off the tees. The greens are really severe. If you miss the greens, it tests your short game. Those are the things I think I do well.”
What Tiger also does well is hit precise irons, something that works very well at Nicklaus designs, which inevitably are “second-shot” golf courses, much like the model for Muirfield Village, Augusta National. Nicklaus first conceived of Muirfield Village while competing in the 1966 Masters. Wouldn’t it be great, he thought, if he could do something like Bobby Jones did with the Augusta National experience, but do it in Columbus, Ohio, where Jack grew up. In 1974, together with architect/land planner Desmond Muirhead, Nicklaus crafted what became one of the PGA Tour’s most admired golf courses. Critics praised “The House That Jack Built,” as much for its flawless conditioning as for its splendid strategic design. Every bit as impressive was how Nicklaus seamlessly integrated spectator areas into the closing holes, using hillsides and amphitheater-style mounding to provide fans with clear views of the action.
Clearly, it would mean a lot for Tiger to break the record at Jack’s place. After all, it has been Jack Nicklaus and his record of 18 professional major championships that has motivated Tiger since he was a boy.
Could it happen this week at Jack’s Memorial Tournament, that Tiger eclipses Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour victory record? Why not? There’s no pressure on Tiger and few expectations, as he knocks the rust off of his tournament game. There’s something else, too, that works in Tiger’s favor on the tough Muirfield Village greens. “Tiger has no equal in his ability to play the correct break and to control the pace of his chips and putts,” said one Top 100 teaching pro to me a couple of years ago. “He has made more nasty, curling putts than anyone.”
Will the absence of fans help or hurt Tiger’s chances? In an odd coincidence, Tiger’s record-tying 82nd win at the Zozo Championship in Japan occurred without fans in the second round, due to wild weather wreaking havoc with the tournament course’s infrastructure. The final round was postponed until Monday and there weren’t a whole lot of folks along for the journey. No, when Tiger gets in the bubble of contention, it won’t matter who’s around. He’s figured out a way to close the door on 82 occasions. It’s not far-fetched to suggest that Number 83 is in the forecast this week.