Tampa another stop on road to Augusta


Transistions ChampionshipPALM HARBOR, Fla. – Kenny Perry is following the same road to the Masters, playing three straight tournaments on the Florida swing before taking a week off and heading to Augusta National.

He usually needs time to find his game, especially before facing a test that demands so much.

And that’s what he finds surprising about Tiger Woods, who is taking a road less traveled to the Masters.

Woods will have been out of the game for five months when he returns from a sex scandal to play the first major of the year. Woods did not indicate whether he would go to Augusta National for practice, although there is no substitute for competition.

“He’s had long stretches off in the past and he’s come back and won the first week out. I don’t see how people do that,” Perry said Wednesday at the Transitions Championship. “I really don’t understand that. I cannot process that in my head. I think he needs to get competitiveness somewhere.”

Perry didn’t hear all the news about Woods, so he assumed he was at least playing in the Tavistock Cup.

“He’s not playing in that either?” he said. “Well, he’s going to astound us all if he goes out there and wins the thing.”

The Florida swing serves a dual purpose for so many – a chance to win a PGA Tour event (and get into the Masters for those not already eligible) and a time to take stock on what part of the game needs work.

No course can match what Augusta National offers, although the Copperhead Course at Innisbrook presents a strong test.

It is different from most Florida courses that host PGA Tour events, starting with its surprising change in elevation. What makes this the toughest scoring course in the Florida swing is its emphasis on position, and greens that typically are firm and fast. It doesn’t have a lot of water because it doesn’t need it to be tough.

The Transitions has one of its strongest fields ever, with four of the top 10 in the world ranking and 14 out of the top 25, a list that includes defending champion Retief Goosen.

Most of them already are thinking about the Masters.

“It’s always in the back of my mind, starting even before last week,” Steve Stricker said. “And then obviously, this whole Florida stretch that I’m playing is geared to just start playing well, get my game in shape for Augusta, just get rounds under my belt. I had 2 1/2 weeks off before Miami, so I was a little rusty last week.”

Two-and-a-half weeks? How about any rust accumulated from five months?

Speaking from his game, Goosen figured the toughest part might be fitness and getting into a rhythm on the golf course, not only the pace of play but putting a score on the card.

“If he’s mentally right and ready to play, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem,” Goosen said.

No one prepares for any other major the way they do the Masters, for no other reason than it’s the first major of the year, and memories are full from it being played on the same course every year.

Woods clearly is facing far different circumstances. He left the game on Nov. 15 with twice as many victories worldwide as any other active player, an impeccable image and a bright future. He will return under a cloud of disgrace from cheating on his wife and becoming a cover boy for tabloids.

What happens on the golf course, however, remains as much a mystery as how he handles the public.

Especially at the Masters.

“It would be the hardest golf course to turn up to,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “It’s quite easy to do a week of practicing and get good at your lob wedge out of the rough. It’s really hard to get good at your long chip-and-runs and your skippy little ones and all the little shots you have to hit at Augusta. That’s why it’s such a good test, because it’s a complete test around the greens. And the imagination required for putts. That’s harder to get prepared for properly.

“But he’s made a career of exceeding expectations.”

The only expectations at Innisbrook are for strong test in its own right.

“The greens are very difficult already,” Stricker said. “They are quick, fairly firm. They are rolling out. It’s difficult to get them to hold. So if we get a little bit of wind, the scoring is going to be difficult. But it’s a great test, great course, great facility.”

And it’s another stop on the road to the Masters, with one guy getting most of the attention staying off course.