Plenty of doubters have dismissed Tiger Woods’ chances this week at TPC Harding Park with a particularly simple bit of logic: It’s too cold.
Tuesday in San Francisco was foggy and sweatery. Shows from the course showed cypress trees looming, ghost-like, in the distance. Temperatures crept into the low 60s. In other words, not great weather to loosen up a stiff back.
Woods spoke to the media on Tuesday and was largely cheery. He said he’s feeling better now than at last year’s PGA Championship, when he got drubbed by Brooks Koepka “by like 30 shots in two days,” he said. He said he’s unsure how contending in a major championship will feel without fans in attendance, but he hopes to find out. And he acknowledged the cold weather will pose a slightly different challenge.
“I think that for me, when it’s cooler like this, it’s just make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly,” Woods said. He wore a star-spangled mask as a neck-warmer, driving home the point. “I know I won’t have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida, where it’s 95 every day. That’s just the way it is.”
Harding Park and Woods’ home course, Medalist Golf Club, are each basically at sea level. But it’s tough to simulate the Bay Area’s fog and chill from steamy Hobe Sound. Woods said he was hardly the only one adjusting to the elements.
“Talking to some of the guys yesterday, they were laughing at their TrackMan numbers already,” he said. “They don’t have the swing speed or ball speed they did last week. It’s just the way it is. It’s going to be playing longer. It’s heavy air whether the wind blows or not, but it’s still going to be heavy. The ball doesn’t fly very far here. I’ve known that from all the years and times I’ve had to qualify up in this area.”
Woods, who spent two years attending Stanford University before turning pro, remembers that there are micro-climates that can mean rapid weather changes around the Bay. (He also dropped the term “marine layer,” for those of you with bingo cards at home.)
“It’s always 20 degrees cooler here than it is down there in Palo Alto. We knew that coming in. I think the weather forecast is supposed to be like this all week – marine layer, cool, windy – and we are all going to have to deal with it.”
It’s tempting to go back through the world No. 15’s recent schedule and correlate good play with warm weather and poor play with cold. Genesis: poor play and cold. Hero World Challenge: good play and warm. And so on.
But it’s not quite that simple. For one thing, we haven’t seen enough of Woods in 2020 — just three tournaments — to know much of anything for sure. And while he did talk about struggling to warm up in golf’s two most recent majors, the U.S. Open (T21) and Open Championship (MC), Woods was also sweater-vested for most of his Zozo Championship win in Japan last fall. He was sweatered up and in contention at the Farmers Insurance Open this January, too. And despite the heat at Muirfield Village two weeks ago, Woods didn’t quite find his form at Memorial.
“I didn’t quite feel my best on Friday and it showed, and the weekend was tough,” he said.
But at TPC Harding Park, Woods flashed back to college memories of qualifying tournaments held there or nearby.
“Coach would make us play in all different types of weather; if it was raining or not, go qualify — and we had to qualify in our sport,” he said.
One of Woods’ best chances of staying warm will come from his proximity to playing partner Justin Thomas, who’s hot off a win in Memphis this past Sunday. Thomas, Woods and Rory McIlroy got good news Tuesday: They’ll tee off at 8:33 a.m. local time Thursday. That means missing what’s forecasted to be a challenging Thursday afternoon wind. And it means a little extra time for Woods to rest, recover and warm back up after his first major championship round in over a year.
Woods has gotten more practical in recent years. He’s talked about how this entire era of his career is gravy. How he’ll feel better some days than others. But he’s still got plenty of edge, too.
The final question to Woods was a pointed one: Can you win this week?
Woods flashed that smile.