WGC: Fast, furious golf schedule leaves little time for practice, rest

Even without Tiger, even brings best and brightest golf stars to TPC Southwind

Just months after winning The Masters, Tiger Woods did not make the cut at the British Open on July 18, and immediately announced he’d skip the FedEx St. Jude World Golf Championships. “There’s been a lot of travel, a lot of time in the air, a lot of moving around, different hotels,” Woods said. “I just want to go home.”
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It only took one round of golf at the British Open for Tiger Woods to dash the hopes of fans hoping to see him this week at the FedEx-St. Jude World Golf Championships this week.

“It’s more frustrating than anything else because this is a major championship and I love playing in these events,” Woods said after finishing two rounds at 6-over 148 with no birdies on the par 5s for the week. “And unfortunately, I’ve only had a chance to win one of them and was able to do it. But the other three, I didn’t do very well.”

Given his considerable health issues – multiple back and knee surgeries, a 2017 bout with addiction to prescription painkillers – it might have been a pipe dream for fans to expect Woods to play two major events in consecutive weeks in any case.

“I just want some time off. Just to get away from it,” Woods said after bowing out at the British Open. “There’s been a lot of travel, a lot of time in the air, a lot of moving around, different hotels . . . I just want to go home.”

But even younger golfers are having to adjust to how fast the major golf tournaments are coming around. Woods’ won The Masters in April. The PGA Championship was in May. The U.S. Open was in June, and July brings two majors: The British Open last week and this week’s WGC at TPC Southwind here in Memphis.

“I think everyone’s been trying to figure out the schedule this year, for sure,” said Justin Rose said in his pre-WGC remarks. “For me now, it’s about – this is I would say my last chance to position myself before the Playoffs really get underway.”

“It seems yesterday we were playing in Augusta and all of a sudden the four majors are gone,” said Italian golfer Francesco Molinari, who is skipping the World Golf Championships event this week. “So I think it’s something that hopefully next year we will get more used to it. But this year it’s been a big change.”

Molinari wasn’t alone in his thinking.

“The schedule has been tough this year,” Tommy Fleetwood said. “If you’re not playing great, you actually don’t have time this year to develop your game because you don’t have that time to take periods off, really. You’re constantly playing and you always have to turn up and perform with the way that it goes.”

Rory McIlroy and Jason Day played miserably at the The British Open, failing to make the cut. But does the extra rest give them an advantage for the WGC?

“They’re more rested than I am or than others are, but I’m sure they also wish that they had played well and they felt better about their game,” said Justin Thomas. “For me, I feel like I’ve had success in the past of playing weeks in a row. That’s kind of why I’m hoping to let that momentum go for another about five weeks or so and see if we can keep it rolling.”

First timers, sort of

Many of the golfers have played in the FedEx-St. Jude Invitational. And many have also played the WGC Championship. But this is the first year that the WGC has been played in Memphis, so it will be a new experience for everyone.

“I’ve always wanted to play this golf course and I’ve always wanted to play this tournament,” Thomas said. “Just being the week before the U.S. Open, the timing didn’t make sense and it didn’t work out. So unfortunately we have to miss a lot of tournaments because of scheduling.”

Wolfe played 18 holes at TPC Southwind on Tuesday, and gained an appreciation for the challenges it will bring.

“This is the first time I saw the course and I can see why it’s a tough golf course,” Wolfe said. “It’s narrow fairways, greens are small and fast, and if this place firms up, I could definitely see it being one of the hardest on Tour. I’m really excited to see where my game holds up against these guys.”

Brooks Koepka is no stranger to TPC Southwind, having played 20 rounds on the course, including last year’s FedEx-St. Jude Invitational.

“I love this place. This place has always been good to me. I feel like I play it really well,” Koepka said. “I enjoy the golf course, I enjoy Memphis. It’s a fun place to come back year after year, so I’ve enjoyed it. This golf course, obviously with a little bit of rain, it’s a little bit softer than it has been in years past, but the golf course is in probably the best shape I’ve seen it the last four years.”

‘Cue before Tee?

You knew this was coming. Anytime a major event brings celebrities to Memphis, media has to ask them about barbecue. It may be mandatory. But the golfers took the questions in stride.

“I’m excited to go get some barbecue at some point,” Thomas said. “It’s similar to Alabama, we had some pretty good barbecue places in Tuscaloosa. I’ll try to check at least a barbecue spot or two out. I know it’s going to be an enjoyable week.”

Justin Rose said he’s looking forward to sampling the Bluff City’s food and culture.

“I’ve never been here before, so I just feel like there’s a really nice vibe out there,” Rose said. “I’m looking forward to experiencing all that Memphis has to offer. Sorry to kind of hedge the question, but yeah, give me a couple days.”

But no ‘cue for Koepka.

“I always bring a chef this week,” he said. “Barbecue isn’t really on my diet unfortunately. We stick to the house.”

Associated Press golf writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.