Golf: Tiger buzz builds as rivals see threat at PGA Championship

Tiger Woods hitting a shot during a practice round for the PGA Championship at Southern Hills on May 16, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS/MICHAEL MADRID-USA TODAY SPORTS

TULSA (AFP) - Tiger Woods excited spectators and rivals alike with a back-nine practice round on Monday (May 16) at Southern Hills, continuing his comeback from severe leg injuries before this week's PGA Championship.

The American, whose incredible return at last month's Masters came only 14 months after a rollover car crash, brought a similar buzz to the roars he created at Augusta National.

"Just watching him at the Masters, that was unreal, just the crowds and what it does to a tournament when he tees it up," said Norway's Viktor Hovland. "Just getting used to big crowds, loud crowds."

Woods played the front nine on Sunday and said his surgically repaired right leg - held together with pins, rods and screws - feels stronger than it did a month ago.

"I'm excited," he told reporters then. "I'm not going to play that much going forward, so anytime I do play, it's going to be fun."

He made the cut at the Masters but battled through pain simply to walk 72 holes and faded to his worst-ever Augusta round of 78, the 15-time Major winner calling the effort to finish four rounds among his greatest feats.

The former world No. 1, now ranked 818th, won the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, although the course underwent an US$11 million (S$15.30 million) revamp in 2018. If his body has the strength and stamina to walk 72 holes, his skill could make him a major threat.

"If there's ever a question if Tiger can contend, we can all just kind of chuckle at that. Never is he going to be in a field where he can't contend," home-state hero Talor Gooch said. "He might not have as good of odds in some places but I think as long as he's in the field, if he ever gets it slotted, no matter how old he is, no matter what's going on, he's always going to have a chance.

"I mean, it's Tiger Woods."

Woods, 46, seeks his 16th career Grand Slam title, two shy of the record set by Jack Nicklaus, and a 73rd PGA Tour triumph, which would break the all-time record he now shares with Sam Snead.

"When Tiger is in the field... there's just a different energy," Gooch said. "Every time he's in the same field, you just cherish it. We all know what he's been through."

DeChambeau is coming

Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner who underwent surgery on his left hand last month after missing the cut at the Masters, tweeted on Monday that he will practise over the next two days and see about playing the event.

"On my way to Southern Hills CC," he tweeted. "Going to test how I am feeling over these next couple days and decide on whether to compete. Looking forward to being in Tulsa."

Jordan Spieth will try to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the PGA Championship after a second-place finish in his hometown Tour event last weekend and a win last month at the Heritage, his game in rare form.

Spieth captured the 2015 Masters and US Open and the 2017 British Open and makes his sixth attempt to join an elite group to complete the sweep that includes Woods, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.

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