FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Tiger Woods saw the various elements of his game come together at the perfect time last month, leading to a fifth Masters victory and 15th major championship.
Now, after taking time off to celebrate that victory, can he summon those aspects again at Bethpage Black at this week’s PGA Championship?
Woods has not played a competitive round since putting out on the final green at Augusta National on April 14, choosing to rest rather than play a tournament in the four weeks before the next major championship.
For just the seventh time in his career, Woods is playing a major championship without a regular event preceding it. Four of those times, he did not play due to injury or illness.
“I wanted to play at Quail Hollow, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again,” Woods said of the Wells Fargo Championship he skipped two weeks ago. “I was lifting — my numbers were good, I was feeling good in the gym, but I wasn’t mentally prepared to log in the hours.
“Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready. That’s going to be the interesting part going forward; how much do I play and how much do I rest. I think I’ve done a lot of the legwork and the hard work already, trying to find my game over the past year and a half. Now I think it’s just maintaining it. I know that I feel better when I’m fresh. The body doesn’t respond like it used to, doesn’t bounce back quite as well, so I have to be aware of that.”
Woods, 43, skipped tournaments between major championships just six previous times, the last in 2013 when he had an elbow injury following the U.S. Open, then tied for sixth at The Open. Only twice did he intentionally not play between majors.
The emotional aftermath of the Masters proved to be much to overcome for Woods, who didn’t play any serious golf until April 27, nearly two weeks following the victory. He played a practice round at Bethpage on May 8, spending more than five hours on the course working all out all of the various yardages with his caddie Joe LaCava.
He returned for a 9-hole practice session on Monday and was scheduled to just practice Tuesday before playing 9 more holes on Wednesday.
Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and was tied for sixth when the U.S. Open returned in 2009. He also played the 2012 Barclays here, where he tied for 38th.
The course measures more than 7,400 yards and will play to par-70. It has just two par-5s and three of the par-4s measure over 500 yards, while three of the four par-4s play to more than 200 yards.
“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.”
The big question remains: can Woods put his game in the same position it was at Augusta National?
“Going into the Masters, I felt that my swing had finally turned the corner because I was trying to make sure that I could hit a high draw and call upon it with a driver, 3-wood, 5-wood, any club in the bag. Be able to hit that high draw, and somehow I found it.
“The short game came around, I found something in my grip there, and it just started coming – pieces started coming together. Then the week unfolded, and what happened, happened.”