Tiger Woods is hosting an “amazing field” of 18 of the best players in the world — himself included — at the Northwestern Mutual World Challenge this week, where it will be held at Sherwood Country Club for the last time before it moves away from Woods’ native California to his adopted state of Florida next year.
On the eve of the first round, Woods told reporters he thinks it’s harder than ever to win tournaments these days because of the equipment advances which have leveled the playing field a bit (mediocre ballstrikers are now decent ballstrikers) and there’s just more depth in the talent pool than there ever has been before.
“I think it’s deeper now than it ever has been,” said Woods in his pre-tourney presser. “There is more young talent. There are more guys winning golf tournaments for the first time. But if you look at the major championships, how long did we go from basically Phil winning (the 2010 Masters) and Phil winning (the 2013 Open Championship). I mean, how many first time winners did we have during that stretch? It’s deeper. It’s more difficult to win events now, and it’s only going to get that way more.
“Equipment has certainly narrowed the gap quite a bit from the elite ballstrikers. Guys that can really hit the golf ball back in the persimmon days and balata balls moving all over the place. You see more young players throw the ball straight in the air and are very shocked to see the ball get moved by the wind. For a lot of us who grew up playing balata balls, you wanted to get that thing down. You didn’t want it up in that wind because it got pushed around like you wouldn’t believe.
“It’s a totally different game. Guys have evolved, and I think have become much more aggressive now than they ever used to be because of equipment.”
Woods isn’t 22 anymore, as he was quick to point out. He’s battled injuries and tournaments are tougher to win these days, but he still has major motivation pushing him to get that 15th major off his back and gain ground in catching Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories.
“I feel like I’ve improved this year than I did over the previous year,” said Woods, who turns 38 at the end of the month. “Won five times this year. I think that’s a pretty good number. No one did that this year, so I’m very pleased at the overall year.
“I certainly wish I could have played a little better in major championships. I was there at The Masters and there at the British certainly with a chance, but just didn’t get it done. The other two I just didn’t play well. But winning THE PLAYERS Championship and then obviously four other events, I think it’s a pretty good year.”
Tiger likes how the majors set up for him in 2014. After all, he’s won at three out of the four venues, with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2 being the odd one out.
“As far as the major championships, I’ve won at every one except for Pinehurst, and I’m trending in the right way,” he said. “I’ve finished third, second. You get the picture, right? Okay. Okay. So I’m looking forward to the major championship venues this year. They have set up well for me over the years and I look forward to it.”
But is he becoming more frustrated because the major wins aren’t coming quicker?
“No, you just play,” he claimed. “At The Masters, I certainly had a chance because I was right there, and especially on Friday when I looked like I was going to take the lead over Freddy and we already posted. Then 15 happened, and on Saturday morning maybe it made Saturday a very long day. But I was still was right there with a chance on Sunday.
“At the British Open, I was there and the momentum flipped on probably Saturday afternoon on that second shot I stood up in the wind on 17. If I just turn it over and turn it down that hill and make birdie and (Lee Westwood) doesn’t, all of a sudden, I’ve got the lead. So things can flip like that. That’s certainly what happened in most major championships.”
Yes, he’s been right there, but I’m the Queen of England if Tiger isn’t frustrated that he hasn’t notched his 15th major or won one in over five years.
On another note, Woods sounded a bit sentimental in his opening comments about the World Challenge moving from Sherwood to Isleworth going forward.
“This is going to be an incredible week,” he said. “We’ve got an amazing field over here this week. We’ve got the golf course in probably the best shape it’s ever been in. The greens are certainly as fast and as hard as I’ve ever seen. It’s going to be one heck of a challenge.
We’ve been here for 15 years now, and it’s been just an amazing, amazing 15 years.
“We’ve had an ability to raise $25 million over those 15 years and build a learning center here in Southern California basically because of this event. All the sponsors we’ve had over the years and the volunteers and all the players who have supported us throughout the years have made this event as special as it is. And on top of that, we’ve helped so many kids around the country and have been able to open up a lot of other learning centers around the country because of this event, so it means a lot to us.”
(Associated Press/Mark J. Terrill)