PALM HARBOR, FLORIDA | As the cool wind blew through the lush terrain of Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course, you could sense a renewed energy to the Valspar Championship.
Tiger Woods. Rory McIlroy. Jordan Spieth. Rarely have they found themselves in the same PGA Tour field, let alone at an event that has trouble attracting elite players.
Their presence has made tournament organizers open two additional parking lots, put 35 more buses into circulation, beef up security, create a new spectator bridge near the 12th fairway, order more food, double the size of the media center and throw in 90 more porta-potties. You can bet your bottom dollar Tampa Bay-area fans – many of whom have never seen Woods or McIlroy play in person – will make those last-minute accommodations worth it.
The anticipation could be felt during Wednesday’s pro-am as a large throng followed Woods in his unofficial round of 2-under 69. The day before he played a practice round with U.S. Ryder Cup kin Davis Love III, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, also in front of a large throng.
“I saw the wave of people walking down No. 1,” said Spieth, a member of Woods’ group for the first two rounds. “So it will certainly be fun.”
The tournament knew of McIlroy’s intentions to make his Valspar debut far in advance, but Woods and Spieth were late additions to the party list. They come looking for momentum in preparation for the Masters, much to the benefit of the Tampa Bay area.
“It’s a great test,” Woods said. “With this wind blowing it’s going to put a premium on really hitting it flush.”
The last time Woods played a competitive round on the course was 22 years ago in the J.C. Penny Classic, a mixed team event with LPGA and PGA Tour players. The competition and the course have changed since then.
“It was a different game,” Woods said. “A long driver was maybe 44 inches. Half the guys were using persimmon and balata balls were the No. 1 ball out here.”
McIlroy and Spieth can’t relate to that. But all three in the trio have found common ground in adding to the excitement of the tournament.