Gary Woodland would already be playing the final round of the Sentry Tournament of Champions with plenty to ponder mentally. The 34-year-old takes a three-stroke advantage over Rory McIlroy into Sunday’s action at Kapalua well aware that in the six previous times he has held the 54-hole lead in a stroke-play event on the PGA Tour he has yet to close out a victory.
But this time Woodland will be fighting his emotions on a different front, after learning late Friday night that his grandmother had died back home in Kansas.
“That’s been tough,” Woodland said, after closing out a third-round 68 with that left him at 17 under for the tournament. “She's been downhill for a little while now. It's been tough. You try to prepare for that but you never really can. So definitely have a little extra emotion with me, but we'll get through it.”
Woodland has had to play with the pain of family loss in the past. In 2017, he was preparing for the birth of twins only for his wife Gabby to have a miscarriage that led to the loss of one of the babies. Their son Jaxson, now 1, is with them this week in Hawaii.
Woodland’s three PGA Tour titles have all been-come-from behind victories. In preparing for Sunday and attempting to overcome his previous final-round struggles, Woodland contends that he has learned from those experiences and carries more confidence.
“I think the difference is I’m a completely different player than I have been in the past,” Woodland said. “I’ve obviously been in the position multiple times. It’s nice to build off those and take certain things out of them.”
There’s also this bit of history working in Woodland’s favor: since 1983, the leader or co-leader of the Tournament of Champions entering the final round has won 27 times.
Woodland can only hope that all this, plus the inspiration he might take from playing in memory of his grandmother, could lead to a uplifting finish come Sunday.