BETHPAGE: Tiger Woods launched his quest for a 16th major title, and a possible return to world number one, with a PGA Championship practice round in cold and rainy conditions Monday.
The 43-year-old American, who snapped an 11-year major win drought by capturing last month’s Masters, toured the front nine at Bethpage Black in just under 2 1/2 hours ahead of Thursday’s start to the year’s second major tournament.
“I feel good,“ Woods told Golfweek. “Got a couple more days of work to get in and I’ll be ready to go.”
Woods hopes to pull within two of the all-time record 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus and take a fifth PGA crown, which would match the career record hauls of Nicklaus and Walter Hagen.
“To tie Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus with five wins would be a very special accomplishment,“ Woods said.
With a victory, Woods would also match the all-time career US PGA wins record of 82 by Sam Snead.
Woods, whose career had been jeopardized by years of nagging back pain before 2017 spinal fusion surgery, won the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black and shared sixth in the 2009 US Open, but those were in warmer mid-June conditions.
This marks the first PGA Championship since 1948 to be played in May after the event was shifted this year from its traditional August spot in golf’s lineup.
Woods practiced four times last week, including an 18-hole session at the Long Island public layout last Wednesday, two days after accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony.
The in-depth shotmaking session at Bethpage was the first time Woods had seen the facility since the 2012 US PGA Barclays tournament.
Sixth-ranked Woods is among five players with a chance to top next week’s rankings.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, defending champion Brooks Koepka, England’s second-ranked Justin Rose, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Woods all have a chance at the top spot.
Johnson, Rose, third-ranked Koepka and fourth-rated McIlroy could take number one with a triumph while Woods would need to win, have neither Rose nor Koepka finish second alone and have Johnson finish worse than solo 11th place.
Tiger oldest No. 1?
Woods, who has not been world number one since March 2013, has spent a record 683 weeks atop the rankings.
Should he return to the top, Woods would become the oldest world number one, overtaking Australian legend Greg Norman for the distinction.
Las Vegas Westgate Superbook oddsmakers have Woods as a 10-1 co-favorite with Johnson and two-time US Open winner Koepka with four-time major champion Rory McIlroy just behind at 12-1.
Woods jumped 13th to sixth after winning the Masters but hasn’t played since his Masters triumph. This marks only the sixth time in his career Woods has played two majors without at least one event between them, the first time since the 2013 British Open.
Woods had fallen to 1,199th in the world rankings in December 2017 after spinal fusion surgery as a last-ditch move to ease nagging back pain that made simple movements difficult.
From there, Woods contended at last year’s British Open and PGA, won his first title in more than five years by taking the 2018 Tour Championship.
That set the stage for Woods to win his fifth Masters green jacket.
Fifth-ranked Justin Thomas withdrew from the tournament with a right wrist injury, denying this from being the first major tournament with all of the world’s 100 top players in the field.
“As a past champion this tournament is extra special to me,“ Thomas said in a statement. “It consistently has the strongest field in golf and I’m disappointed not to be among those competing this year but I’m optimistic about a return in the near future.” - AFP