Tiger Woods — at the Houston Open? The week before the Masters?!
It would seem like an improbability, maybe even an impossibility. For one thing, Woods never plays the week before major championships. What’s more, he doesn’t play much tournament golf at all these days — and never back-to-back weeks if he can help it.
But the idea of Woods playing the Houston Open the week before he heads to Augusta isn’t some unfounded rumor or even a planted story from a hopeful hometown newspaper. No, this came from the source himself, Tiger Woods, in his pre-tournament press conference ahead of this week’s Zozo Championship.
“Well, I think my plan is just to play and practice,” he said of his Masters preparation. “I don’t know if I’m going to play Houston or not. I’m not playing next week, and we’ll see how this week goes and make a decision from there.”
Even the fact that he addressed the idea of playing next week — at the second-ever Bermuda Championship — suggests Woods has another start on his mind. Typically he’s the king of keeping his schedule a secret until the last possible second; he often commits to events on Friday afternoons, just hours before the deadline. This time he introduced the possibility of Houston twice, unprompted.
“This entire year has been different for all of us. And my run-up to Augusta is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. That’s just the way it is,” Woods said. “The whole idea is to be ready in a few weeks and whether or not that’s playing one more event, whether that’s Houston or just playing here at Zozo, just making sure that I’m ready for Augusta.”
It was just two years ago that Woods added a surprise start at the Valspar Championship, sending the greater Tampa golf community into a tizzy; he hadn’t played there in over 20 years and nearly won the event, finishing a shot behind Paul Casey. At the time, Woods’ announcement meant a increase in ticket sales, on-site concessions and a boost in overall atmosphere.
This time, the Houston Open will be allotted a limited number of fans — 2,000 per day — the first tournament to do so since the Tour shut down at the Players Championship back in March. It’s easy to imagine a scene in which officials have to keep a majority of those on-site spectators from crowding around Woods, as so often happens. And the big boost would be to the tournament profile and the TV ratings rather than the on-site experience. A hypothetical start would also mark Woods’ first tournament start in Houston since the 2003 Tour Championship at Champions Golf Club.
Whether or not Woods ends up playing, the Houston Open will boast a strong field; World No. 1 Dustin Johnson has committed, as have Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler. The tournament will showcase the all-new Memorial Park Golf Course, a renovated Houston muni overhauled with funding from Astros owner Jim Crane, redesigned by Tom Doak — with consulting help from Brooks Koepka. Still, there’s no question that adding the defending Masters champion would raise the stakes.
As for Woods’ own expectations?
“My game’s definitely better than it was at the U.S. Open. I feel a little bit more prepared, a little bit better, and hopefully that translates into playing the golf course,” he said.
The question of which golf course he’ll play next is still (surprisingly) up in the air.