Pro golfer Bill Haas was injured in a fatal car crash Tuesday evening near Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif.
For the first time, Tiger Woods’ journey to Magnolia Lane and a playing date in the Masters goes through the Tampa area.
Palm Harbor, to be exact, which is home to the Valspar Championship on the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook Golf Resort. The four-time winner of the green jacket makes his tournament debut starting Thursday, his fourth start on the PGA Tour in his latest comeback following back surgery.
Woods, who finished in a tie for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open and missed the cut in the Genesis Open in his first two starts of the year, was 12th in the Honda Classic two weeks ago – his best finish on the Tour since 2015. After a good week of recovery, practice and gym work – and because he played just two rounds in the Genesis Open – Woods decided to add the Valspar to his schedule en route to the Masters.
He also will play next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“I got back in the gym, got after it a little bit,” said Woods, who is ranked No. 388 in the world. “I felt really strong afterwards. I pushed my practice sessions, pushed myself in the gym a little bit, and I thought I could handle two weeks in a row.”
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Woods said he wants to keep progressing ahead of the Masters, continue making tweaks to his swing and game. Much of his work last week on the golf course and practice range dealt with trying to hit the ball high. Because of the strong winds at the Honda Classic, Woods hit a lot of low knockdown shots.
“I had to focus on getting the ball in the air again, reset my swing, and start hitting it high,” he said. “Once I start hitting it high, I can easily start taking it down low. It’s a little tougher to go from hitting it low to hitting it high.”
He might have to take it low this week. Strong, swirling winds are expected to descend on the tree-lined Copperhead Course, which Woods said fits his eye.
“It’s a great test,” said the winner of 79 Tour titles and 14 majors. “It’s very tricky off the tee. You have to shape the ball both ways. And with this wind blowing, it’s going to put a premium on hitting it flush. It’s going to be tough.”
And it’s going to be crowded. The field was already stacked with major champions Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Adam Scott. But tournament director Tracy West said the addition of Woods, and to a lesser extent the appearances of Spieth and McIlroy, set in motion major changes to accommodate the expected increase of 7,000 to 10,000 fans per day.
An eighth admission gate was added along with 6,000 more parking spaces and 35 more buses to carry fans to and from the course. A new spectator bridge that’s 18-feet wide was built near the 12th fairway. The media center was nearly doubled in size. Ninety more porta potties were obtained.
“We’ve had big crowds, but nothing like this,” West said.
Having a front row seat are Spieth and Stenson, Woods’ playing partners the first two rounds. Spieth, who won the Valspar in 2015, remembered back to the 2013 Presidents Cup when he played with Woods, Steve Stricker and Matt Kuchar in a practice round. Spieth said he was nervous on every shot.
“Even though it was practice round and he was my teammate,” Spieth said. “I’ll probably feel more nervous on the first tee tomorrow than I do on the first tee normally just given the setting. He certainly adds an element to any tournament that he enters.”
That was evident Tuesday when Woods played a practice round with Jim Furyk, Stricker and Davis Love III.
“I saw the wave of people walking down 1,” Spieth said.
He’ll see more waves starting Thursday.
“It will be fun,” Spieth said.