World Challenge move 'emotional,' Tiger says

Tiger Woods during the pro-am of the 2013 Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Tiger Woods during the pro-am of the 2013 Northwestern Mutual World Challenge in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – He was effusive in his praise, calling it an “amazing 15 years” and suggesting that “if we didn’t have this event, we wouldn’t have a learning center in Orange County (California).”

But at the same time, Tiger Woods conceded that moving his end-of-year tournament from West Coast to East Coast made sense, albeit begrudgingly.

“It’s not an easy decision (and come Sunday) it's going to be emotional, no doubt about it,” said Woods.

When the World Challenge debuted, it arrived on Woods’ 24th birthday – a cold and miserable day at Grayhawk GC in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was Dec. 30, 1999, and to accommodate holiday spirits, the 36-hole tournament then took off the next two days and returned Jan. 2 for the final round.

Woods got upstaged that year by the 40-year-old winner, Tom Lehman, who outplayed David Duval. When it was over, Woods donated nearly all of his $120,000 prize to the Payne Stewart Foundation. But for nearly every December since then, his earnings have benefited the Tiger Woods Foundation.

“We’ve raised $15 million basically because of this event,” said Woods.

Having scrambled in recent years to find sponsorship, this year the 72-hole, 18-player tournament is backed by Northwestern Mutual. It will get under way Thursday, again at Sherwood Country Club, which has hosted the tournament every year since 2000.

But come 2014, Woods’ tournament will move from his home state to his adopted home of Florida. Officials confirmed that the World Challenge will be held at Isleworth CC, Woods’ former home base near Orlando, and that the goal is to find another sponsor. One rumor has the tournament moving to the Bahamas for 2015, but for now, Woods would only confirm Isleworth and the same field size and format. “We’re pleased with the way we have it,” he said.

Woods pointed to the way the pro golf landscape has changed since this tournament began in 1999, how there is massive congestion in August, September, and early October, and then players scramble all over the globe. “It’s hard to get guys to come play,” Woods said, though you could debate that point with him if you scanned his entry list for this year’s edition. (See complete tee times and pairings here.)

It includes five players ranked in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking and none of the 18 competitors are outside the top 30. Arguably, it’s the best of the 15 fields he has helped assemble.

Yet if you study the entry list, you can understand how a Florida locale and date would present a more favorable selling point. Of the 18 players assembled here this week, nine make their home in Florida (Woods, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Dustin Johnson, Jim Furyk, Bubba Watson, and Keegan Bradley) and five others (Matt Kuchar, Webb Simpson, Zach Johnson, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner) would have short commutes from points in the southeast.

None of the 18 call California home.

Throw in Woods’ longtime friendship with businessman Joe Lewis – the main investor in The Tavistock Group – and it made for a smooth transition. With the Tavistock Cup ending its 10-year run as a mid-March staple, “it made sense for us to move,” said Woods. “It will be a little easier for the guys to make a trek out (to Isleworth) instead of coming all the way out here.”

Twenty-four the day this tournament was born, Woods is nearing his 38th birthday – and while much in the world of golf has changed, this much hasn’t: He’s still the best player – no matter where you play.

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