BETHPAGE (AFP) - Tiger Woods said he will stay aggressive at difficult Bethpage Black in his bid to overtake PGA Championship leader Brooks Koepka after an opening two-over par 72 on Thursday (May 16) left him nine shots adrift.
In his first competitive round since ending an 11-year major drought by capturing last month’s Masters, 15-time major winner Woods stumbled to two double bogeys, made three birdies and three bogeys as well as an eagle in the opening round at Bethpage Black.
“It wasn’t as clean as I’d like to have it for sure,” Woods said. “Didn’t get off to a very good start.” Sixth-ranked Woods opened with a double bogey at the 10th hole and made another at the par-3 17th. It was the fourth time Woods began a major with a double bogey or worse, including one at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines that he battled back to win.
But Woods sank a 30-foot eagle putt at the fourth, a 15-footer for birdie at 15 and used his irons to help his inconsistent putting.
“I thought it was going to be hard to get the ball close to the holes,” he said. “When I had a few opportunities there with short irons, I played aggressively and was able to get them in there where I had makeable putts.
“I fought my way back around there, and unfortunately I just didn’t keep it together at the end.” Woods said he did not play a nine-hole practice round Wednesday because he felt ill, not just for extra rest, but said he felt good during the round.
“I wasn’t feeling that good, so I decided to stay home and rest. I got a little bit sick, so I decided to stay home.” Much will depend on how the course changes Friday, said Woods, wary of afternoon rain forecasts when he will be on the course.
“We’ll see what the golf course offers up,” he said. “It changed quite a bit from when we played this morning to this afternoon. The greens got a lot faster. We’ll see how it dries out over the next few days.
“It’s just going to place another premium on driving the ball in the fairway to get at some of these flags.” A victory would tie Woods for the record of 82 US PGA Tour titles held by Sam Snead and move him within two of matching the all-time major record of 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.
Woods, who has topped the rankings for a record 683 weeks, also could become world number one for the first time since March 2013 with a victory on the same course where he captured the 2002 US Open.
Woods could become the first golfer since Nicklaus in 1975 to win the Masters and PGA Championship in the same year.
Tiger hunts Snead, No.1
A victory would match Woods with Sam Snead for the all-time US PGA win record at 82 and move him two shy of the all-time major record of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus - as well as put Woods halfway to a calendar Grand Slam for the first time since 2002.
The 43-year-old American superstar's electrifying triumph last month at Augusta National has made him the focus of attention on the same layout where he won the 2002 US Open.
Koepka held off Woods to win last year's PGA at Bellerive before Woods turned the tables at the Masters, completing an amazing comeback after 2017 spinal fusion surgery that ended years of back woes.
"It was great to see him win," Koepka said. "I was a little bit disappointed. I felt like I let it slip a little bit. But at the same time, that's what our sport needed. We needed him to win a major."
Woods has not played competitively since the Masters, making this only the sixth time in his career he has played back-to-back majors.
Woods could become world number one for the first time since March 2013 by winning. He would need top-ranked Dustin Johnson to finish worse than solo 11th and neither Koepka nor world number two Justin Rose of England to finish second alone.