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Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Tiger has to learn new course

By Bob Harig
ESPN.com

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Tiger Woods loves Chicago, and the Windy City has been good to him over the years, a place where he has won two major championships in addition to capturing the BMW Championship (formerly Western Open) five times.

But this week's FedEx Cup playoff event at Conway Farms Golf Club in suburban Chicago poses a different challenge for the world's top-ranked golfer.

It is a golf course Woods had not seen until Wednesday's BMW Championship pro-am -- and he's not won a tournament under those circumstances since 2006.

"That's where I have to rely on [caddie] Joey [LaCava] a little bit, and we were discussing the weather forecast and how it's going to change a little bit, and discussing the different lines and different options," Woods said following his round. "We did a little bit of work today, more so than we normally do."

Woods has played most of the courses on his PGA Tour schedule multiple times, making preparation more about his game than any kind of course strategy.

The last time Woods won at a venue he had not competed previously was the 2006 WGC-American Express Championship at The Grove outside of London. That tournament was played the week following the Ryder Cup.

Since that victory, Woods has won 25 times on the PGA Tour, including five wins this year. Each time, Woods had competed on the course at least once prior to winning. And in only two of those 25 victories -- the 2007 Wachovia Championship and the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills -- had he not won previously at the venue.

Woods, of course, is not alone this week. Only a handful of players had played Conway Farms previously, Luke Donald being the most prominent example. The Englishman lives in Chicago and is a member at the course. A few players competed in the 1997 NCAA championships here, including Jason Dufner, Matt Kuchar and Zach Johnson. All three missed the cut.

Patrick Reed and Harris English played in the 2009 Western Amateur here, the most recently any players have competed at the venue.

The course, which measures 7,149 yards and plays to par-71, appears ripe for scoring depending on weather conditions.

"We've got some easier holes out there, and if you drive the ball well here, you're going to have a lot of 8-iron on down, and those are some scoring clubs," Woods said. "There's a lot of funneling where you can get to some of these pins. You don't have to fire right at the flag, you can funnel it in there. You can get the ball pretty stiff.

"The scores are going to be low. It'll be interesting to see what happens on Friday, if the weather is supposed to be what it's supposed to be and if we get a different temperature like the ball is traveling now. It'll be a totally different golf course."

Temperatures have been in the 90s, but the forecast calls for considerably cooler temperatures, with highs only in the lower 60s by Friday.

Woods enters the BMW Championship 14 points behind FedEx Cup leader Henrik Stenson, who won the Deutsche Bank Championship two weeks ago. Woods finished in a tie for 65th there -- matching his worst 72-hole performance of the year -- a week after back spasms hampered him at the Barclays, where he finished tied for second.

He reported no issues with his back Wednesday and said treatment and time off helped. He worked with his coach, Sean Foley, later in the week.

The winner of the BMW Championship receives 2,500 points, and Woods is all but officially assured of getting to Atlanta for the Tour Championship. The points will be reset at the Tour Championship, making it mathematically possible for any of the 30 players to win the FedEx Cup and a $10 million bonus. Anyone within the top 5 going in is assured of capturing the FedEx Cup with a victory at the Tour Championship.

The last of Woods' five victories at this tournament came in 2009, when it was played at Cog Hill, the tournament's longtime former home. He won it there three times as the Western Open and twice more as the BMW Championship, which next year moves to Cherry Hills in Denver.

Woods' two major championship victories in Chicago were at Medinah in 1999 and 2006.