FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — At last year’s P.G.A. Championship, Tiger Woods changed shirts midway through his rounds because he was perspiring so profusely. That doesn’t figure to be a problem on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park, where the 101st edition of the tournament commences on Thursday.
The sweltering days last August in St. Louis, where the heat index reached triple digits, are a bygone memory. Woods, who grew up in Southern California and lives in Florida, wore a stocking hat and multiple layers as he practiced Tuesday in cold, damp conditions.
“I’ve been doing a lot of practicing of late, not in sweaters,” Woods said, “so this is a little different.”
The golf calendar, particularly the majors, tends to be as much of a certainty as Thanksgiving dinner at your grandparents’ house. But the PGA Tour wanted to move up its season-ending playoff series, which typically finished in late September, so it wasn’t competing against the N.F.L. or college football. Accommodating that shift meant holding the P.G.A. Championship three months earlier, making it the second major of the year instead of the final one.
Since 1960, when Arnold Palmer ushered in the modern Grand Slam, the P.G.A. Championship had been the final major every year save for 1971, when it was in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., and moved to February to avoid South Florida’s summer weather.
The P.G.A. Championship has always been the most flexible of majors, switching from its match-play beginnings to stroke play and occupying dates in every month from May to December during its first century of existence. Even so, the decision to move the tournament required four years of deliberations to finalize and another two years to execute.
“I was a pretty big fan of this date change,” Rory McIlroy, a two-time P.G.A. champion, said.
The move, he noted, will make the tournament available to courses in the South or Southwest, whose hot, humid summers had rendered them geographically undesirable. “It gives the P.G.A. of America more of a variety of courses to go to, which I think is a good thing,” McIlroy said.
The P.G.A. of America, which controls this championship, is a separate entity from the PGA Tour, the primary organizing body for professional men’s golf.
The timing of the move turned out to be propitious. There is palpable excitement, and not just among hard-core golf fans, to see what Woods does as an encore to his victory last month in the Masters, his first major title in almost 11 years and his 15th overall. The last time the P.G.A. Championship took place in May, in 1949, the winner was Sam Snead, whose all-time PGA Tour record of 82 victories Woods will equal with his next win.
Woods, 43, hasn’t played since the Masters. He bypassed the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., where he has won before, but not, he said, because of any physical infirmity.
Woods, who has had four back operations since 2014, alluded on Tuesday to a letdown after his emotional Masters finish. “I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again,” he said, adding: “Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready.”
Woods, a four-time P.G.A. champion, is scheduled to tee off at 8:24 a.m. Thursday with Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari.
To contend, Woods will need to drive the ball as well as he did at Augusta National. The 7,500-yard Bethpage Black layout is a beast, featuring two 500-yard par-4s. The rough is thicker than a hockey playoff beard, and the ball doesn’t travel so far in chilly weather. Not that Max Homa, the winner of the Charlotte tournament, seemed to notice on Tuesday; he won the long-drive contest with a 318-yard attempt.
“If you can’t find the fairway here, I think you’re really going to run into issues,” said Koepka, who held off Woods to win last year’s P.G.A. Championship at Bellerive Country Club and finished a stroke behind Woods at the Masters.
In the 29-year-old Koepka, Woods might finally have found the genuine rival who eluded him in his prime.
“I don’t see it as a rivalry,” Koepka said, “although it is fun to play against him, best player to ever play the game.”
On Tuesday Woods was asked if Koepka, who is built like a home-run hitter, reminded him of his younger self.
Woods laughed. “I was never that big,” he said, adding, “Brooksy has just got pure power and he’s an athlete.”
In 2000, Woods won the British Open to become the fifth man to win all four of golf’s majors in his career. Jordan Spieth can become the sixth with a victory at Bethpage.
Spieth, 25, has 11 PGA Tour titles, but none since the 2017 British Open. His best finish this season was a tie for 21st at the Masters (where his lowest finish in five previous appearances had been a tie for 11th). He has been driving short and crooked, which does not bode well on a course that favors those who hit long and straight.
“I’ve shot some low rounds, but piecing together four has been difficult this season so far,” Spieth said, adding, “If I can continue to make the amount of birdies I’ve been making and then just limit the mistakes a little bit, then I should be right in it.”
May 15, 2019
May 16, 2019