Published December 05, 2013
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Graeme McDowell is going to miss Sherwood Country Club.
The World Challenge that Tiger Woods hosts each December begins Thursday, played for the last time at this Jack Nicklaus course in the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains. It will move next year to Isleworth Country Club outside Orlando, Fla.
McDowell's good vibe from this event dates to 2009, the year Woods withdrew in the midst of his personal life collapsing around him. McDowell was a last-minute alternate and was runner-up. That was the first year the tournament was awarded world ranking points, and McDowell moved up to No. 38.
That put him into the Masters the next year, and those ranking points enabled him to be exempt from U.S. Open qualifying. McDowell won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, a victory that assured him a spot on the Ryder Cup team. And in the Ryder Cup, he won the final match on the course in Wales to clinch the cup for Europe.
And then he won at Sherwood two months later. And he won again last year, which could well have been a springboard of confidence to his three-win season this year.
So, yes, he's sorry to see it go.
"It's always been a week I've enjoyed, win, lose or draw," McDowell said. "I've always enjoyed the hospitality here. It's always been a great place to end the year."
He's not opposed to Isleworth, which is only a short drive across Orlando from his place at Lake Nona. Then again, McDowell has three wins in California and has often joked about buying a second home in the Golden State.
"California has been pretty good to me," he said. "Maybe not as good to me as it has been to the host of the tournament. Tiger Woods has had a Hall of Fame career here in the state of California. I've had an OK run."
Woods has 19 wins in his home state — eight at Torrey Pines (including a U.S. Open), two at Pebble Beach (including a U.S. Open), three at La Costa Resort (two at the Match Play, one at the Tournament of Champions), one at Harding Park (World Golf Championship) and five at Sherwood.
This will be the 14th straight year at Sherwood, which Woods said was a good run. He attributed the move to a combination of players' global schedule, a central location and sponsorship dollars "not exactly easy to come by in these economic times."
"It was certainly not an easy decision, but there are a lot of players that are based there in Florida," Woods said. "It will be a little easier for the guys ... instead of coming all the way out here, to stay right there in Florida."
Half of the 18-man field Woods assembled this week live in Florida.
And this is quite a field. The World Challenge has 12 of the top 20 in the world, and the lowest-ranked player is Hunter Mahan at No. 30. It's a reminder to Woods how difficult it is to win these days, and why his five PGA Tour wins — even without a major — was a strong effort.
A generation ago, golf was top-heavy with Woods, David Duval, Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh.
"I think it's deeper now than it ever has been," Woods said. "There is more young talent. There are more guys winning golf tournaments for the first time. If you look at the major championships, how long did we go from basically Phil winning and Phil winning?"
He was referring to the 13 majors played between Mickelson winning the 2010 Masters and the British Open this year. Eleven of those champions had never won a major, the exceptions being Els and Rory McIlroy.
Of those 11 first-time major champions, only Darren Clarke has fallen lower than No. 40 in the world.
"It's more difficult to win events now," Woods said.
He pointed to advancements in equipment, particularly from wood drivers and wound golf balls. Woods says the younger players who hit the ball high "are shocked to see the ball get moved by the wind."
"For a lot of us who grew up playing balata balls, you wanted to get that thing down. You didn't want it up in that wind because it got pushed around like you wouldn't believe," he said. "It's a totally different game. Guys have evolved, and I think they've become much more aggressive now than they ever used to be because of equipment."
Separating the best players is getting more difficult.
McDowell set a target to get back into the top five in the world at the start of the season. He wanted a certain amount of world ranking points that he figured would do the trick, and he about reached that level. Little did he know that so many other players also raised the level of their games.
"It's fun to be part of it," McDowell said.