FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Tiger Woods, the Masters champion, is going for the second leg of the Grand Slam on a long, wet course at Bethpage Black.
It all sounds so familiar.
For Woods, it feels entirely different.
The PGA Championship now occupies the second slot in the major championship schedule given its move to May for the first time since 1949, and with only a month between majors, Woods chose not to play a tournament since winning his fifth green jacket.
He is every bit the global superstar he was in 2002 when he followed a Masters victory with a U.S. Open title at Bethpage Black, but he is not No. 1 in the world. And along with being 43 years old, he is two years removed from fusion surgery on his lower back, and some days he doesn't move as well as others.
“There's more days I feel older than my age than I do younger than my age,” Woods said.
The new version of an older Tiger is more than capable.
He showed that last September when he won the Tour Championship at East Lake, his first victory since going through four back surgeries. And he showed in April, with his 15th major, that he was capable of challenging the Jack Nicklaus standard of 18 majors.
Still to be determined is whether he can be the dominant force he had been for a dozen years.
“I'm not looking at it like that,” he said. “Whether I'm dominant or not going forward, that remains to be seen. What I know is I need to give myself the best chance to win the events I play in, and sometimes that can be taking a little bit more breaks here and there, and making sure that I am ready to go and being able to give it my best at those events.”
Of the top 10 players in the world, Woods (No. 6) and Bryson DeChambeau (No. 8) are the only ones who have not played since the Masters.
This will be only the seventh time that Woods has gone major to major without having played somewhere in between, with mixed results. The most famous was in 2008 when he showed up at Torrey Pines for the U.S. Open on a shattered left leg and won in a playoff.
Bethpage Black, which figures to play even longer than its 7,459 yards in soft conditions, is suited for good drivers such as Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy.
Woods couldn't reach the green on the par-4 seventh hole with a 3-wood Monday. Johnson got there with a 3-iron.
Woods declared himself “rested and ready” after his month away from competition.
He says he spent time in the gym and didn't get back to the grind until he was ready, which was just over two weeks ago.
He came to Bethpage Black last week for 18 holes, a long round that tried to cover every detail of how to handle the course. He figured out quickly that driving will be paramount because of the elevated green and the lush, wet rough. Woods played nine holes Monday, spent Tuesday practicing on the range and chipping area, and planned to play nine holes today.
“This is not only a big golf course, but this is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play,” he said. “This could be a hell of a championship.”
At a glance
What: 101st PGA Championship
Where: Bethpage State Park (Black Course), Farmingdale, N.Y.
Length: 7,459 yards
Par: 35-35 – 70
Field: 156 players (136 tour pros, 20 club pros)
Prize money: TBA ($11 million in 2018)
Winner's share: TBA ($1.98 million in 2018)
Defending champion: Brooks Koepka
Bethpage champions: Tiger Woods (2002 U.S. Open), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Nick Watney (2012 Barclays), Patrick Reed (2016 Barclays)
TV: 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday (TNT); 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (TNT), 2 to 7 p.m. (CBS)