PALM BEACH GARDENS: World number one Tiger Woods makes his third start of the year on Thursday (Friday in Manila) at the US PGA Tour Honda Classic near his home but his thoughts are already on the Masters.
Woods, a 14-time major champion chasing the record 18 major wins of Jack Nicklaus, will be tested by an all-star lineup in the $6 million event at PGA National.
Reigning Masters champion Adam Scott of Australia, reigning British Open champion Phil Mickelson and Northern Ireland stars Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are also in the field at the first of four consecutive Florida stops on the US tour ahead of the year’s first major, the Masters, in early April at Augusta National.
“Once we get to Florida, we’re all thinking about it, on our way to Augusta,” Woods said.
“For most of the guys, this is like their prep to Augusta this week. The quality and the depth of the field has gotten so much better in recent years.”
Woods is already pondering how the 17th hole at Augusta National will play now that the huge century-old pine nicknamed the Eisenhower Tree has been removed from the left side of the fairway following damage from an ice storm.
“I’ve hit it a few times. It’s an iconic landmark,” Woods said. “I can’t say some of the guys are going to miss it, but there will be a difference, no doubt about it.
“You don’t really see the trees on the left because Eisenhower blocks them out. Before you could only see the tops of the trees. With Eisenhower gone, now you will be seeing the line you are hitting a little bit better.”
Woods, who tees off from the 10th tee on Thursday in round one alongside 2007 Masters champion Zach Johnson and 2011 PGA Championship winner Keegan Bradley, lives near enough to be able to sleep in his own bed every night.
“I’m going home to my own home, my own remote [TV command], my own bed—those are things we don’t get to do very often,” Woods said. “Most golfers spend pretty much their entire career on the road.”
Adjustments will be needed
Woods will be making only his third start at the event, staged on a 7,241-yard layout that has had the toughest scoring in relation to par outside the majors, but one drenched by rain.
“The fairways are a little bit spotty with all the rain we’ve had,” Woods said. “I didn’t expect the greens to be this slow. They have kept them slower than they normally are. We’re going to have to make a few adjustments there.”
Woods shared 80th at Torrey Pines and 41st at Dubai in his two prior 2014 starts. In 16 of his 17 pro seasons, Woods has finished in the top six or better at least once in his first three starts to a year.
But he does like the state of his swing.
“It feels good,” Woods said after a Wednesday practice round. “I was pleasantly surprised with how well I was hitting it.”
And while the Masters is on his mind, Woods is more concerned about victory this week than how well he is hitting the ball.
“If I hit it great and win, if I slap it all over the place and win, I win,” he said. “That’s the intent.”