Here’s a look at how Tiger Woods could fare at the 100th PGA Championship, which begins Thursday at Bellerive Country Club in suburban St. Louis.
Here we are again. For the fourth and final time this season, Tiger Woods is set to tee it up at a major championship — this is the first time he’s played all four majors in three years — and the question is right on the tip of everyone’s tongue: Does he have a chance to finally win major number 15?
Woods has won the PGA Championship four times, trailing only Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus in that regard, each of whom won five. So it’s safe to say that this championship has been kind to Tiger Woods. Of course, one could say that about any major championship. After all, he does own four victories at The Masters, three at the U.S. Open and three at The Open Championship.
But as we all know, this isn’t the same man that won those 14 major titles. This is 42-year-old Woods that has had four back surgeries and is playing his first full season since 2015 … and that season didn’t go particularly well for him anyway. But we’ve been through all of this already, haven’t we?
Sure, we could sit here again and go through each of the tournaments he’s entered this season and how we’ve seen those flashes of brilliance on certain shots or certain rounds. But we also know that he hasn’t yet posted a victory in this latest comeback, mainly due to the fact that he hasn’t been able to put together four great rounds in one week. Take this past week at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Tiger put himself right in the mix with rounds of 66 and 68 but faded on the weekend with consecutive rounds of 73. It’s not that he played overly poorly, however. Keep in mind that Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, all of whom are in the top 10 in the world, shot 73 on Sunday as well. It’s just what you sometimes have to expect, especially from a 42-year-old who’s had four back surgeries and hasn’t played this much golf in a long time.
I’ve said this before and I’ve got no problem repeating it over and over again. Golf fans have just come to expect too much from Woods, mainly due to the fact that they were spoiled by watching him in his prime. He hit every shot he needed to hit. He made every putt he needed to make. That just doesn’t happen now, and people get upset and go on Twitter and say that he’s done, which is absolutely absurd.
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No, we’re never going to get the run from Tiger that we saw from 1996-2013 years. He’s not winning 79 more PGA Tour events or 14 more major championships. That’s just not in the cards. But yes, he can win the PGA Championship. It’s just not going to be as easy as he used to make it look.
The game is still there, even if he’s not blowing away the field any more. He had us all in a frenzy when he took the lead in the final round of The Open Championship but he just couldn’t close. That’s just going to happen now. And let’s not forget that Francesco Molinari is playing some of the best golf in the world at the moment. He certainly deserved that claret jug, and he went out and took it.
And maybe Woods is just tired. As fit as he is, he’s still 42. Golf is a lot more taxing than people give it credit for, and it could be getting to him. He arrived at Bellerive Country Club earlier this week and alluded to some ice baths but didn’t want to talk about it much. Shocking from Tiger, right? Overall, he says his body is in good shape and that he just needs to clean up his game a bit before teeing off at 9:23 a.m. ET on Thursday in a big group featuring defending champion Justin Thomas and four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.
After the weekend in Akron, he certainly does have a few things to clean up if he wants to contend. The biggest problem he’s had this year is his accuracy off the tee — he ranks 175th on the PGA Tour in that category — and that showed its ugly (driver) head once again. He hit only 12 of 28 fairways on Saturday and Sunday, and that’s not something he’ll really be able to get away with at Bellerive. His iron game, which has been the sharpest tool for him this year, wasn’t much better. Woods hit just 19 of 36 greens in regulation this past weekend and the putting game that has improved throughout the year failed him also. As for the greens at Bellerive, they’re certainly not going to be his favorite. They’re a little bumpier than he would prefer, but he’s also keenly aware that all 156 players have to putt on them.
Another factor playing into Tiger’s chances at the PGA Championship will be his lack of course knowledge. There hasn’t been a major here since 1992, obviously a bit before Tiger’s time, and the last big event not involving the seniors was a World Golf Championship event in 2008 that Woods missed due to knee surgery. There was supposed to be a WGC event here in 2001 but that was cancelled due to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Tiger got to St. Louis on Monday but chose to take the day off to rest, hoping to get in nine-hole practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday. Alas, some bad weather knocked his group off the course just after noon, meaning he doesn’t have much time to prepare for a course he’s unfamiliar with. Of course, he hadn’t played Innisbrook since 1996 and nearly went out and won the Valspar Championship earlier this year, finishing just a stroke behind Paul Casey, whose putter was white-hot in the final round. So that theory might be out the window.
Here’s the deal. If Woods is on his game, he can still compete with these young guns. He’s shown that. It’s just a matter of if he can pull that game together for four straight rounds. If that happens, he’s going to be right there on Sunday afternoon. If he can’t, there’s too much talent out there. People aren’t scared of him anymore and maybe that’s been the difference. If Tiger teed it up in the old days, the competition felt like they were playing for second.
Now, guys like Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas are just happy to be teeing it up alongside their childhood idol. Maybe that’s not a good thing and maybe that’s amazing to see. But this is guaranteed: Woods isn’t coming to the PGA Championship to be a novelty act. Tiger is coming to the PGA Championship to win. Can he do it? We’ll find out soon.