Woody Austin lacks the usual comfort zone of a defending champion this week in the Sanderson Farms Championship.
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Woody Austin would normally be thrilled to come back to a tournament he won in 2013.
The only issue: The Sanderson Farms Championship is no longer at the same course.
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This year’s tournament has moved about 10 miles south to the Country Club of Jackson after 19 straight years at Annandale Country Club in Madison, Mississippi.
The 50-year-old Austin said the course move obviously negates any of the good feelings he could have brought to Mississippi this week. The veteran has been splitting time between PGA Tour events and the Champions Tour since becoming eligible after turning 50 in January.
”Everybody is back to square one,” Austin said. ”I have no knowledge that I can fall back on. I have nothing I can go off of, so this is entirely new. I’m just basically another person here this week.”
The tournament’s new location is one of many changes for the event. It also has a new spot in the PGA Tour’s new scheduling system — moving from its usual spot in the heat of mid-July to much cooler weather in November. Temperatures are expected to top out in the 60s throughout the weekend.
The money structure has also changed, increasing from $3 million to $4 million. Four past winners are in the field, including Austin, Chad Campbell, Heath Slocum and Cameron Beckman.
Slocum said the new course would an equalizer for all the players, but he wasn’t particularly worried about the course change. He said that an unfamiliar course can even be a good thing because ”you don’t know where the trouble is, and you don’t have any bad memories.”
Austin defeated Daniel Summerhays and Cameron Beckham by one stroke in 2013 at Annandale by making a 7-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. At 49 years old, he was the eighth-oldest winner in PGA Tour history.
Austin has struggled on the PGA Tour while playing well on the Champions Tour since turning 50. But he said he’s not quite ready to move to the Champions Tour full time because he feels he can still compete.
”Right now, I still want to play against the best players in the world,” Austin said.
After playing the back nine at the 7,354-yard Country Club of Jackson on Tuesday, Austin said he expected low scores throughout the week unless the greens became faster.
”These young guys hit it so far that they’re going to beat this place up unless they firm the greens up,” Austin said.