Woods happy with his return to World Challenge

Woods happy with his return to World Challenge

THOUSAND OAKS, California - Reuters
Woods happy with his return to World Challenge

Tiger Woods will be hosting the World Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club and will try to defend his title, but he will be up against a high-profile group of golfers, including Americans Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Brits Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter. REUTERS photo

Twelve months after ending a two-year victory drought at the tournament he hosts, Tiger Woods is excited about his prospects for 2013 as he prepares to defend his World Challenge title at the event starting today.

His one-shot triumph over fellow American Zach Johnson at last year’s World Challenge set the tone for a successful 2012 PGA Tour campaign highlighted by three wins, the only disappointment being his continued barren run in the majors.

“I’m very excited because last year at this point in time I was still not quite where I wanted to be physically,” Woods, who has battled assorted knee injuries during his career, told reporters at Sherwood Country Club.

“This year has been fantastic in that regard. I’ve felt good. I’ve played a full schedule for the first time in a very long time, and I’m just very pleased with what I’ve done overall with my game.

“At the outset of the year I didn’t really putt well. Towards the end of the year I really started putting well. My short game has really come around ... I am becoming more consistent.”

Woods won his 72nd PGA Tour title at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, then followed up with wins at the Memorial tournament and AT&T National.

Glittering record

However, he has not triumphed in the majors since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and has set his sights on removing that blemish from his otherwise glittering record during his 2013 campaign.

“I’ve had some really nice years, some really good years in there, but winning a major championship just takes it to a whole new level,” said Woods, who will celebrate his 37th birthday next month.

“I know how it feels when you win a major championship, and it feels incredible. It lasts with you, and that’s something that I would like to have happen again. That’s something I haven’t done since ‘08 so it’s something I’m hoping I can do next year.”

Woods has fond memories of his World Challenge victory last year at Sherwood where he birdied the last two holes to snatch a one-shot win from Johnson.

“I hadn’t won in a little bit there, and it was nice to not only win but to go head-to-head against Zach and to do it the way I did,” the 14-times major champion said. “I had to earn it.

“Against a guy like Zach, he’s not going to go away. That really started the year off for me on a positive note, and consequently I ended up winning three times this year. But there are always things we need to work on, and this off-season we have a list of things we want to get done. That’ll start probably a couple of weeks after this event.”

Woods, who has been working with coach Sean Foley on the fourth swing change of his professional career, faces a strong field this week in the $5 million invitational event.

Among the 18 players competing at Sherwood are Masters champion Bubba Watson, U.S. Open winner Webb Simpson, 2012 FedExCup champion Brandt Snedeker and Ryder Cup players Ian Poulter of England and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland.

Merely qualifying for the elite field of 18 at this week’s $5 million World Challenge is an achievement in itself for the players, an early Christmas present to signal a successful year.

Though the four-round tournament is not a PGA Tour event, it offers official world ranking points and every player competing this week is ranked in the world’s top 35.

“It’s an honor just to be here,” U.S. Open champion Webb Simpsonsaid.

“To make an elite field of 18 guys is a good feeling and just shows that you’ve been doing the right stuff. I am excited for the week.”

Fellow American Keegan Bradley, who won his first major title at last year’s PGA Championship, agreed.

“It’s always good to be back here and play in Tiger’s tournament,” Bradley said. “This is a bonus tournament. It’s run so amazingly and to have Tiger be the host obviously makes it more special. It’s one that I look forward to every year.”

For PGA Tour veteran Steve Stricker, competing in the warm autumn sunshine of Southern California provides welcome relief from the biting cold of his home in Wisconsin.

“It’s a good opportunity for me to come out of the cold weather and get some rounds under my belt,” said the 12-time PGA Tour winner.

“It just turned for the worse back in Wisconsin this last weekend. We had great weather all fall and I actually played a little golf out on the golf course last week, but then over the weekend it got cold.“I haven’t really picked up the clubs since the Ryder Cup so it’s a good opportunity to get my game going again for the New Year.”