SAN FRANCISCO – What chances would you give this player at this week’s 102nd edition of the PGA Championship?
He’s played one tournament in nearly six months.
In his past two starts, he’s finished dead last and tied for 40th three weeks ago in the Memorial, his first start since February.
In four of his past five rounds on the PGA Tour, he’s posted 76, 76, 77 and 76.
His surgically repaired back has given him fits this year, to the point of bypassing a couple starts, and the forecast for the City by the Bay points to temperatures from the low 50s to the upper 60s – not exactly ideal for warming up a balky back.
And the rough is thick, the fairways thin and the marine layer heavy at TPC Harding Park.
So, Tiger Woods, can you win your fifth Wanamaker Trophy this week?
“Of course,” Woods said with a big smile on Tuesday.
Outwardly, Woods looks like he can back up those two words. His swing has been fluid since arriving here Sunday and no physical issues have been detected through 27 holes over two days of practice rounds. And Woods has dramatically defied the odds before, winning on a broken leg and torn knee ligaments – see 2008 U.S. Open – and rising from the debilitating depths of pain that necessitated spinal fusion surgery to win a green jacket for a fifth time – see 2019 Masters.
Still, he knows the challenge of rapidly knocking off rush and knocking down the best players in the world is as tall as the cypress trees rimming the course.
“I feel good,” he said. “Obviously I haven’t played much competitively, but I’ve been playing a lot at home. So I’ve been getting plenty of reps that way. Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I’ve been gearing up for. We’ve got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it.”
Adding to his optimism is the fact Woods has won at TPC Harding before – in the 2005 World Golf Championships-American Express and in the 2009 Presidents Cup, when he went 5-0. But he’s 44 now and four back surgeries and one knee procedure removed from 2009.
His mind is ready. Now we’ll see if his body – and swing – are willing.
“I haven’t played that much, but the results that I’ve seen at home, I’m very enthusiastic about some of the changes I’ve made and so that’s been positive,” he said. “Just keep building. Keep getting ready and be ready come Thursday.”
Woods wouldn’t speak to the changes – “Well, I’m not going to tell you that,” he laughed – but he did refer to one major alteration.
“For me when it’s cooler like this, it’s just make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly,” he said. “I know I won’t have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it’s 95 every day. That’s just the way it is.
“Talking to some of the guys yesterday, they were laughing at their TrackMan numbers already. They don’t have the swing speed or ball speed they did last week. It’s just the way it is. It’s going to be playing longer. It’s heavy air whether the wind blows or not. The ball doesn’t fly very far here. I think the weather forecast is supposed to be like this all week: Marine layer, cool, windy, and we are all going to have to deal with it.”
The 15th-ranked player in the world with 15 major championship to his name has a lot to deal with this week. But this major and the U.S. Open in September and the Masters in November have been circled on his calendar since COVID-19 started to rock the globe.
“I’ve been trying to prepare for the three,” he said. “Trying to figure out my schedule and training programs and playing prep and the things I need to work on for each major venue. It’s just in a different calendar order and different time of year. But this is a big run for us coming up here.
“I’ve been gearing up for this and looking forward to the challenges.”