LOS ANGELES－Tiger Woods launches his latest bid for a record-breaking 83rd PGA Tour victory on Thursday when he emerges from a five-week layoff to defend his title at the relocated Zozo Championship in California.
A year ago, Woods bagged the 82nd tour title of his career with victory at the same tournament in Japan, finally tying Sam Snead’s all-time mark to cap a 2019 which also included a 15th major title at the Masters.
But in the 12 months since that milestone victory, Woods’ hopes of moving clear of Snead have stalled, with the coronavirus pandemic and niggling injuries drastically limiting his tournament appearances.
The 44-year-old former world No 1 has not played since missing the cut at the US Open in New York just over a month ago, his challenge unravelling with a seven-over-par second-round 77.
Yet the opportunity of defending his title at this week’s Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club, just outside Los Angeles, was too good to pass up.
The picturesque course nestled at the foot of the Santa Monica Mountains used to stage the limited-field World Challenge event hosted by Woods from 2000 to 2013. During that spell, Woods won the event five times and finished outside the top two on just two occasions.
While this week’s event will feature a full 78-player field, clearly Woods will feel at home on the 7,098-yard layout which was once used as a filming location for television shows such as M.A.S.H and The Dukes of Hazzard.
Woods will tee off on Thursday alongside Matthew Wolff and Xander Schauffele.
Although world No 1 Dustin Johnson withdrew on Monday as he continues his recovery from COVID-19, Woods will need to get the better of a star-studded field if he is to bag title No 83.
World No 2 Jon Rahm will make his debut in the tournament while two-time FedExCup champion Rory McIlroy returns after a third-place finish last year.
While big-hitting US Open champion Bryson DeChambeau is skipping the event as he plots an assault on next month’s rescheduled Masters at Augusta, 2020 PGA Championship winner Collin Morikawa is in the field.
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama－last year’s runner-up at Chiba－will also take part along with Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Tommy Fleetwood, Phil Mickelson, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth.
For the Los Angeles-raised Morikawa, this week’s event sees him return to a venue where he once watched Woods play as a spectator.
The 23-year-old revealed on Tuesday that he once waited in vain for Woods in the hope of securing his autograph.
“It’s good to be back in LA, good to be back in Southern California where I grew up,” Morikawa said.
“Every time we’re able to play a tournament in California it always means a little more to me.
“I came out here when I was really young to watch Tiger’s event, but I couldn’t tell you anything about that day other than I remember waiting underneath one of the balconies for signatures, never got one.”