PGA Championship 2019

Rested Woods ready to roar

Tiger Woods chatting with American compatriot Pat Perez during a practice round ahead of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Tuesday. This will be Woods' first tournament since his Masters victory a month ago. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Tiger Woods chatting with American compatriot Pat Perez during a practice round ahead of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Tuesday. This will be Woods' first tournament since his Masters victory a month ago. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy
Francesco Molinari
Francesco Molinari
Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth

Masters champ feels fresh after long break as he seeks his fifth Wanamaker Trophy

FARMINGDALE (New York) • Tiger Woods walked into the media room at the PGA Championship on Tuesday clutching a cup of hot coffee on a cool New York morning.

He hopes to be holding something far more valuable on Sunday night - the Wanamaker Trophy.

Judging by his words, the former world No. 1 is in fine fettle as he prepares for his first tournament start since his Masters victory exactly one month ago.

He raised eyebrows when he skipped the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago, which means he would turn up at Bethpage Black this week without any competitive action since Augusta.

On Tuesday, he erased concerns that there might be any physical issues behind his decision.

"I just wasn't ready yet to start the grind of practising and preparing and logging all those hours again," said the American, 43, who is taking precaution following his 2017 spinal fusion surgery that resurrected a career in danger of ending prematurely.

"I was lifting (weights), feeling good in the gym, but I wasn't prepared to log in the hours.

  • Background Story

  • 1ST ROUND (selected, USA unless stated)

    1ST TEE

    8.02pm (Singapore time): Li Haotong (Chn)

    Tomorrow, 12.32am: Paul Casey (Eng)

    12.43am: Tony Finau

    12.54am: Matt Fitzpatrick (Eng)

    1.16am: Jon Rahm (Esp), Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

    1.27am: Bryson DeChambeau

    1.38am: Rory McIlroy (Nir), Phil Mickelson, Jason Day (Aus)

    1:49am: Matt Kuchar


    10TH TEE

    7.07pm: Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Tha)

    7.29pm: Tommy Fleetwood (Eng)

    7.40pm: Sergio Garcia (Esp), Adam Scott (Aus)

    7.51pm: Louis Oosthuizen (Rsa), Patrick Reed

    8.02pm: Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose (Eng)

    8.13pm: Xander Schauffele, Hideki Matsuyama (Jpn)

    8.24pm: Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari (Ita), Tiger Woods

    Tomorrow, 1.27am: Pan Cheng-tsung (Tpe)

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

"But I feel rested and ready. I know that I feel better when I'm fresh. The body doesn't respond like it used to, doesn't bounce back as well, so I've got to be aware.

"So I spend a lot of time on my short game, pitching and putting.

"I need to give myself the best chance to win and sometimes that can be taking more breaks and making sure I am ready to go and being able to give it my best."

This is the first time the tournament is held at Bethpage Black, where Woods won the US Open in 2002. It is also the first time since 1949 it is held in May rather than August, making it the year's second Major instead of the last.

The 7,459-yard, par-70 course - with only two par 5s - is notoriously long and difficult, giving an advantage to players with long and accurate drives.

According to Woods, driving "is going to be at the forefront with the rough as lush as it is".

"As the week goes on and the greens dry out, the majority of the greens are elevated," the 15-time Major winner said. "Trying to get enough spin hitting the ball up to elevation with the greens firming up, have to be in the fairway to do that."

In total 156 golfers will be vying for the title, including 99 of the top 100 players in the world rankings.

The narrative ahead of today's first round, of course, was largely about Woods having won a Major after all his back operations. Now the question is: will he dominate again?

He has finished first, second and sixth at the past three Majors.

Nick Faldo, now an analyst, thinks the penal rough and his month-long layoff will work against him this week. Yet those who really know him have absolute faith.

Hank Haney, Woods' former coach, told The Times of London: "Despite some people saying he had forgotten how to win, I knew his experience is greater than anyone by a long shot.

"As soon as his back got better and the ball-striking improved, winning was inevitable."

So what next? Expect not to see him play much, maybe 14 times a year, nursing his body into the twilight zone, but expect him to win.

Notah Begay, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, believes the target for Woods, apart from Jack Nicklaus' 18 Majors, is Sam Snead's record of 82 Tour wins. Woods is one short.

Begay said: "Now he's in the second phase of a 20-year career. He can be the future of the game."

Meanwhile, four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy has said that he wants to play for Ireland at the Tokyo Olympics next year.

He had the choice of competing on either the British or Irish teams since Northern Ireland does not field a separate Olympic squad.

REUTERS, DPA, THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP Day 1: Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208, tomorrow, 1am.


Players to watch

RORY MCILROY, 30 (NIR)

World ranking: 4

Majors won: 4

Best PGA Championship result: Winner (2012, 2014)

The four-time Major winner from Northern Ireland has twice hoisted the Wanamaker Trophy but has not won a Major title since the 2014 PGA.

This year, he already has a Players Championship victory and seven other top-10 showings but his worst result was a share of 21st at the Masters in his bid to complete a career Grand Slam. The world No. 4 turned 30 earlier this month.

FRANCESCO MOLINARI, 36 (ITA)

World ranking: 7

Majors won: 1

Best PGA Championship result: T2 (2017)

The reigning British Open champion was in the hunt at the Masters before stumbles on Sunday's back nine cost him the Green Jacket.

The 36-year-old from Turin was a 2017 PGA joint runner-up and shared sixth last year. His third at the Masters was a third consecutive top-six Major finish. Seventh-ranked Molinari won the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March at Bay Hill for his first title since his Open win last July at Carnoustie.

JORDAN SPIETH, 25 (USA)

World ranking: 39

Majors won: 3

Best PGA Championship result: 2nd (2015)

The three-time Major winner has struggled this season but can complete a career Grand Slam with victory at Bethpage.

He captured the 2015 Masters and US Open and 2017 British Open but has not won anywhere since his most recent Major triumph at Royal Birkdale. The 25-year-old American has yet to crack the top 20 this year, his best showing a share of 21st at the Masters, and has slumped to 39th in the world rankings.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2019, with the headline 'Rested Woods ready to roar'. Print Edition | Subscribe