PGA Championship: Tigers Woods’ quest for 16th major provides irresistible narrative
TIGER Woods’ epic Masters victory was the perfect result for the revamped golf schedule.
Certainly, the PGA of America could not have asked for a better backdrop for the relaunch of its men’s major in its new springtime date.
Traditionally the fourth of the big four, in resonance and date, the PGA Championship comes earlier this year and is Woods’ first outing since his astonishing Augusta triumph.
It was a win that re-energised the sport.
A month on, anticipation has been heightened for this week’s US PGA gathering at Bethpage Black. How will Woods fare after his first major win in more than a decade when he takes on the formidable Long Island layout?
This is the next question as the golf season gathers momentum. Woods is returning to the scene of his 2002 US Open triumph emboldened by the presence of the green jacket back in his wardrobe.
It is probably asking too much for him to make it successive major victories. Heavy rains have softened what is already a brute of a par-70 course measuring 7,459 yards.
In a recent edition of The Cut, the BBC golf podcast, Sir Nick Faldo cast doubt on whether Woods would be able to escape errant tee shots in the way he managed at Augusta last month.
“He won’t be getting that at Bethpage Black,” Faldo said. “You hit it sideways there you will be in knee-high fescue.”
The English six-time major winner also pointed to the springtime chill that is expected in New York this week. Temperatures are forecast for the 50s Fahrenheit and Faldo feels this will count against Woods and his notoriously fragile back.
“To me the weather is key,” Faldo told us. “He won in Atlanta in a hundred degrees and at Augusta it was in the low eighties and of course it was hot and humid.
“He needs that heat on his back, I would have thought,” Faldo added.
Nevertheless Woods will be centre of attention as the world’s best gather on Long Island. His quest for a 16th major is an irresistible narrative even though he skipped Quail Hollow a fortnight ago to continue his recovery from the toll taken by his Augusta win.
Last week Woods was shown in spritely form as he played practice rounds at Bethpage prior to the chilly storms that swept in over the weekend.
Damp and soggy underfoot might play into the hands of Rory McIlroy – the Northern Irishman who has often prospered in heavy conditions and on PGA set-ups.
Inevitably the four-time major champion (two of them PGAs) will be among the favourites but it is defending champion Brooks Koepka who should perhaps attract most of the smart money.
Although he did not win at the Masters, Koepka put together another accomplished major display and showed fine form at the Byron Nelson with a closing 65 last Sunday.
He successfully defended his US Open title last year and seems well placed to do the same with his PGA crown.
Time for PGA Championship to stand on its own two feet?
For the tournament itself it is a massive week as it seeks a new identity. It is no longer “Glory’s Last Shot” and it remains tough to know how we should characterise what is now the second men’s major of the year.
It does not have the glamour or clamour of the Masters, it is not the toughest set-up because that remains the US Open and it does not have the historical significance and romance of The Open.
Yes, the PGA can profit from the interest generated by the Woods renaissance but it still faces a challenge to stand on its own two feet. How can it distinguish itself from other weekly stops on the PGA Tour?
Courses for the championship are laid out to be difficult but fair and strength of field is its biggest calling card. Despite the traditional inclusion of a clutch of club pros this is the only major able to boast all of the world’s top 100 players in its field.
Only late withdrawal Justin Thomas, who is suffering a wrist injury, is missing.
It may remain the most obscure of the quartet of crowns that define a player’s career. In order to assume the mantle of the genuinely global major, maybe it will one day need to be taken around the world?
That would do the trick but it remains an idea for the future. This week is all about sustaining momentum gathered by events at Augusta and the players are keen to ride the wave.
“It’s a great time to try and hit a bit of form,” Tommy Fleetwood told BBC Sport after successfully hosting last week’s British Masters at Hillside.
“It would be brilliant to get up there contending. It’s a great time to be in golf right now with the majors coming thick and fast.”
So standby for the second instalment of the major season. As the sign at the public course hosting the tournament famously proclaims: “The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which we recommend for highly skilled golfers.”
Enticingly, all of the game’s best protagonists will all be there. And they are inevitably hungry to grab a taste of major glory, especially given how it was so brilliantly showcased by Woods a month ago. – bbc.com