Season of Change at PODS Championship

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2007 PODS ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. -- If not for evidence found in PGA TOUR records, Paul Goydos might have a hard time believing how much his career has changed from the last time he was at Innisbrook.
 
For a guy whose previous TOUR victory came when Tiger Woods was still an amateur, Goydos has won 25 percent of his starts since that runner-up finish last year spared him a trip back to Q-school. He's now a regular at World Golf Championships, not opposite-field events. And he can think about a trip to the Masters, where he hasn't played since Ben Crenshaw was the defending champion.
 
Innisbrook Course
The maintenence crew tries to get everything in order Wednesday before the start of play. (WireImage)
'That's as big a turnaround as you can get in golf,' Goydos said.
 
Some of the statistics are slightly skewed.
 
His winning ratio is helped by the fact he has played only four tournaments since Tampa. He's a regular at the WGC events because two of them are played in a five-week span. And only four months have passed since the tour last came to Innisbrook.
 
Talk about a big turnaround.
 
The PODS Championship begins Thursday with a new look, a new title sponsor and a new date on the calendar. It used to be in the fall, the final stop before the TOUR Championship. Under the new FedExCup schedule, it has moved to the second leg in the Florida Swing.
 
And that has brought changes in everything from the color of the grass to the mood of the players.
 
'It's green,' former British Open champion Todd Hamilton said after a practice round Tuesday had him hitting longer clubs. 'The ball doesn't roll very much. If the hole says 560 yards, then it's 560 yards -- it's not 520 yards and 40 yards of roll. But that doesn't matter. I'll be hitting first, just like always.'
 
The Copperhead course at Innisbrook was slightly brown and very crispy when played in the fall, and the Bermuda grass was a menace. Now that spring is near and the Bermuda is dormant, Florida golf courses are overseeded with rye grass to bring out the green color. How much that matters remains to be seen, but the change is hard to ignore.
 
'I think you'll be able to figure out more what the ball will do,' Dean Wilson said.
 
As for the mood?
 
This used to be serious business with so much at stake. In its fall spot, this was the last chance for players to qualify for the TOUR Championship, finish in the top 40 on the money list to become eligible for the Masters, for get into the top 125 to keep a TOUR card.
 
That's where Goydos was.
 
He was 160th on the money list and No. 295 in the world ranking, going nowhere but qualifying school.
 
Then came his best week of the year, and he closed with a 70 to tie for second behind K.J. Choi. He earned $466,400 and moved up 63 spots to No. 97 on the money list.
 
His next start was in January at the Sony Open in Honolulu, and Goydos birdied three of his final four holes for a 67 and a one-shot victory, his first since Bay Hill in 1996. Because he plays a limited schedule -- he is a single parent raising teenage girls -- Goydos shot up to No. 39 in the world and became eligible for the Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
'Coming into this tournament last year, I was a different person,' he said. 'I was struggling, wondering about my future in the game. Two tournaments later, I'm playing in Match Play, I'm eligible for the World Golf Championship at Doral, I have a reasonable chance of playing in the Masters. And this is the event that started that.'
 
Asked what sparked the turnaround, Goydos still isn't sure.
 
He knows his limitations -- mostly off the tee, where he is among the shorter hitters on tour -- but never felt he couldn't win. He continued to work on his game, waiting to see a change in the results, not knowing when that would be, if ever.
 
'Luckily for me, it turned into results the very last week,' he said.
 
Whether he gets that again remains to be seen, although the timing again would come in handy. Goydos is No. 45 in the world ranking, and he has to stay inside the top 50 through the end of the month to get into the Masters.
 
He hasn't been to Augusta National since 1996, three weeks after his victory at Bay Hill. And for a guy who loves statistics, don't think Goydos isn't paying attention.
 
'I was 295th going into Tampa last year,' he said. 'When I got done playing Hawaii, I knew ... there was a chance I could move into the 70s and 80s. I looked down and I was 39th in the world. I almost fell off my chair. I look at them every day now.'
 
Goydos preferred Innisbrook when it was firm and brown because he's at the lower end on driving distance and won't get the roll he did the final week in October. But he still likes the shape of the holes and the sight lines off the tee.
 
Most players who were at Innisbrook a little more than four months ago should remember it well, no matter what color the grass. In fact, several could not remember the time they returned to the same course in such a short time except for their home club.
 
'Don't think I've ever done that, for a tournament,' Wilson said. 'It's a little strange. I mean, the defending champion is K.J. Choi, and it's like he just won this thing a few months ago.'
 
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