The PGA TOUR completes the West Coast trifecta this week as they hop over to the Golden State after a few weeks in Vegas.
The ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP made its debut last year and it was played in Japan at Narashino Country Club. That will continue to be the case in future editions but it has been moved to Sherwood Country Club for one year, due to the pandemic.
The event will maintain the same no-cut structure and will feature just 78 golfers, the same as last week's CJ CUP @ SHADOW CREEK.
Sherwood Country Club is home to many stars, nestled at the base of the Santa Monica Mountains, just 40 miles west of the Hollwood Sign (or 35 miles northwest of Riviera Country Club).
This Jack Nicklaus design doesn't wow you with length but still provides a tough test for the pros. Playing as a par 72 at 7,073 yards, this is very short by PGA TOUR standards.
Sherwood CC does have some experience hosting TOUR events in the past but nothing in terms of official FedExCup tournaments. The course opened in 1989 and it hosted the Shark Shootout team event from then until 1999. From there, it moved it's attention toward the Hero World Challenge which is hosted from 2000 to 2013. The elder statesmen in the field will likely have some tournament experience at this venue.
Jumping back to the scorecard, a unique aspect of this course is that it features five par 5s. Three of them play under 540 yards. Very short. You might expect extremely low scores based on that information alone but 11 of the 14 World Challenge events played here were actually won at 17-under or tougher.
There were three editions of that World Challenge that were won at 20-under, 22-under, and 22-under, so it is possible that the field rips this place apart this week but the more likely scenario is that it holds its own with the winning score falling somewhere around 17-under by week's end. That will likely be determined by the weather and how the TOUR decides to set up the golf course.
Based on past quotes here, it appears the defense of the course is pin placements, water hazards, and wind. The location at the base of the mountains makes gauging the wind even tougher. As for pin placements, the greens are large with an average square footage over 7,000 feet. That gives them flexibility for pin placements and some of them can make it tough to land the ball close, even with a wedge in hand. Distance control is crucial. It will pay to have some different ball flight options to work with this week.
The course has been described as a good risk-reward test and water is in play on eight holes this week. That is especially true when you start on the front nine as you'll see an island green at the par-5 second, a 203-yard par 3 with water to clear at the third, and a dogleg par 4 at the next hole with water along the right side similar to the 12th at TPC Southwind.
For turf, golfers will see bentgrass fairways and greens with ryegrass rough. Pretty standard for what you'd expect to see out West or anywhere outside of the Southeast or Texas, really.
Sifting through some past quotes, let's try to break down the course to see how it will play.
Tiger Woods: "On virtually every Nicklaus golf course, you better be dialed in on your distance control. He gives you small targets to hit to, and the misses are very penal. So you know, you miss the ball in the wrong spots here, you’re making bogeys. It’s very difficult to make birdies. Sorry. Save pars." -2013
Zach Johnson: "I like it because there’s a lot of risk‑reward. There’s a lot of strategy involved in where you hit it and how you hit it. I don’t feel like it favors the longest guy necessarily, so I like that." -2013
Graeme McDowell: "The golf course suits my type of game. I’m an accurate driver of the ball. I’m a pretty aggressive medium and short iron play and when I can roll the ball well, that’s why the golf course sets up well for me: Good wedge playing and good driver of the ball, that’s the key here." -2012
Jim Furyk: "what makes this golf course difficult is a lot of Jack Nicklaus’s golf course designs are built to be played in the air. If you think of Muirfield in Ohio, one of my favorite golf courses, it’s a golf course that if you’re not bouncing the ball into a lot of greens, you’re putting the ball up in the air and stopping on the greens. And it makes it very difficult in the wind. And it’s the same with this golf course." -2012
Rory McIlroy: "We don’t play a lot of golf courses like this sort of week in, week out. It’s fiddly and not many drivers, and it’s interesting, it’s a lot of fun, and I think that’s why the guys enjoy it. " -2010
Tiger Woods: "it’s the only way to shoot low here. You have to take care of the par-5s. There’s five of them, and with today’s technology and warm weather, you have to get the most of them." -2010
Looking at grass types, geography, course attributes, and past performance, here are a few courses/events that I think could prove to be a good pointer this week:
Silverado Resort and Spa (Safeway)
PGA WEST Rota
Pebble Beach Pro-Am Rota
Muirfield Village (Memorial)
Nine Bridges (CJ CUP)
Riviera CC (Genesis)
Some themes picked up here are West Coast courses, risk-reward courses, short par 5s, bent or poa greens, or Nicklaus Designs.
Thursday: Partly Cloudy with a high of 70 degrees. Winds at 6 MPH with gusts up to 18 MPH.
Friday: Cloudy with a high of 67 degrees. Winds at 6 MPH with gusts up to 18 MPH.
The locals probably think this is bad weather with cloud coverage spoiling the sunshine but a cloudy day in the upper 60s sounds like paradise right now as I type this in Minnesota where it's a high of 38 degrees today and we are looking at snow this week.