'I still feel as if I've some of my best golf to play,' says Woods
WORLD CHALLENGE:Tiger Woods heaped praise on the year Rory McIlroy has had, but on the eve of his own final event of the season he also said: “I still feel I have some of my best golf to play”.
Woods is the defending champion in the 18-man World Challenge at Sherwood Country Club in California, with Ian Poulter and 2010 winner Graeme McDowell the two Europeans taking part.
The course was the scene of Woods’ first victory for over two years last December and three more PGA Tour wins this year have given him cause for optimism as he approaches his 37th birthday.
“There were quite a few people out there that said I would never win again,” he said.
“Well starting at this event, I won four times so that’s not too bad, but I still feel I have some of my best golf to play.
“In order to do that I had to be healthy and this year is heading in the right direction. I’m very excited about next year.”
As for 23-year-old McIlroy, whose five victories in 2012 included his second Major by a runaway eight-shot margin, Woods stated: “Rory is ranked number one – he deserves it.
“He’s won tournaments all around the world. He’s had high finishes on top of that and that’s how you do it.
“He’s won a Major championship, won a couple of (FedEx Cup) play-off events and won the Race to Dubai event, so those are four big events with great fields. He should be very proud of the season he’s had and I’m sure he’s excited about what next year holds for him as well.”
On McIlroy’s coming switch of clubs Woods added: “I think that any time you make a change in equipment it’s certainly a big deal.
“I think it’s about how you go at it. Going through the testing process, trying to get the right shaft and the clubhead, plus ball, is a challenge.
“There’s a lot of hitting of golf balls or a lot of testing, a lot of days out there spent by yourself testing. But when you get it right it’s pretty good.
“Over the course of my career I haven’t put anything in my bag unless I knew it was already better, but that’s just because of all the testing I’ve done prior to that.
“It’s important what it does on the range, but what is it going to do on the back nine on Sunday? Is this equipment in general, is this going to help me win golf tournaments? If the answer is yes, then it’s in the bag. If the answer is no, then it’s not.”
Poulter is back playing in the States this week for the first time since Europe’s famous Ryder Cup victory.
“I was a marked man at the Ryder Cup. They wanted to shut me up – that was plain and simple,” Poulter said last week in Dubai.“Everybody knew that and they couldn’t do it.”
The 36-year-old won all his four games at Medinah, including a match-winning fourball with McIlroy in which he birdied the final five holes.
McDowell, who became engaged last week, is back at the tournament where he beat Woods in a play-off two years ago just two months after his own match-winning role at the Ryder Cup in Wales.
Phil Mickelson is the only member of America’s side not present in this week’s lucrative event.
World Challenge The Lowdown
Course: Sherwood Country Club, Thousand Oaks, California.
Prize money: €3.09 million. €927,000 to the winner
Holder: Tiger Woods
Course winners: Tiger Woods (5 times), Jim Furyk, Graeme McDowell
Course Record– 72 holes: 266 Davis Love, (2000), Tiger Woods (2007) 18 holes: 62 Tiger Woods (2007)
TV: Live Sky Sports
Weather forecast: Cool and cloudy
Course: Mature oak trees frame a picturesque layout rated one of the best courses in the United States. Five par fives yield plenty of birdies. Plenty of streams and water-hazards along with the imposing trees and bunkers ensure the premium is on straight-hitting.