Tour Confidential: Will Tiger Woods be refreshed (or rusty) at the PGA Championship?

May 13, 2019

Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week we discuss Tiger Woods’ chances at the PGA Championship, what type of player Bethpage Black favors, John Daly cruising around in a golf cart and more.

1. Welcome to PGA Championship week. Tournament favorite Tiger Woods will make his first start since his Masters win last month (although he was spotted practicing at Bethpage as early as Wednesday). Will the 43-year-old be refreshed for Bethpage Black, or are you expecting rust? And where does he finish?

Josh Sens, contributor (@JoshSens): Tiger will be good and ready, and I expect that to be plenty good enough for a top 10. Of course, he could win, but this will be both a deeper field and a tougher venue for Tiger’s game (more strain on the driver). Recoveries of the kind he made in the Masters (birdies after wild tee shots on 14 the first two rounds, for instance) will be harder to come by. I don’t see him as the odds-on favorite but we’ll see plenty of him over the weekend.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor (@Jeff_Ritter): I want to agree with Sens, but another top 10 feels like a big ask. I saw the video where Woods limped into that post-Augusta interview, and then he never entered Quail Hollow. It sure feels like that Masters win took a lot out of him, and it’s understandable. Woods’ week might turn out to be a well-earned letdown … but I’m ready to be proven wrong.

Josh Berhow, senior editor (@Josh_Berhow): Refreshed! I actually thought him skipping Quail Hollow was a positive sign — he’s confident enough about his game that he doesn’t need another start. I like Tiger to top 10 this week and wouldn’t be surprised to see him contend. The guy can game-manage his way off the tee and make his money with stellar iron play all week.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer: No rust. Mentally ready. Game sharp. But I think the course might prove too long and hilly for him, as a walker and a driver. To borrow a phrase (thanks, Jeff), I’m ready to be proven wrong.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer (@Alan_Shipnuck): If he drives it like he did at the Masters he will contend to the bitter end. If he doesn’t, it will be an uphill battle, to say the least. Tiger knows how to peak, physically and mentally. I think he’ll make a strong run

2. The A.W. Tillinghast-designed, 7,432-yard par 70 that is Bethpage Black needs little introduction. Its holes are long and so is its rough, and the first time a major was played there (in 2002), Woods was the only player to break par. The Tour’s mashers — Brooks, DJ, Bubba, et al. — have an advantage on most course setups, but will that be especially true this week?

Sens: Yes — and that puts it in stark contrast to the two more compelling majors that follow it (the U.S. at Pebble and the British Open at Portrush), which are bound to bring more styles into the mix.

Ritter: Oh, yeah: advantage, bombers. Expect someone from the Tour’s group of 310-yard hitters to lift the Wanamaker.

Berhow: Yeah, it’s going to be tough for the Kisners and Z. Johnsons of the Tour. I guess weather could be the equalizer, but it’s a touch too soon to predict that.

Bamberger: I need a thesaurus for “absolutely.” I would be shocked to see anyone other than a proven long-and-straight driver as your winner… Your Jon Rahms, your Dustin Johnsons, your Brooks Koepkas. In Dallas, the fellas swung out of their cleat, because they could. That won’t be the case this week. Rory. Not Phil. Jason Day. Not Tiger. But I’m ready to be proven wrong.

Shipnuck: It’s one of the brawniest courses on the planet, but with long, wet, juicy rough, playing out of the fairway will be paramount. Length is always an advantage. This week, accuracy is just as important.

3. The PGA historically has been the last of the four majors on the calendar. It is now the second. We’ve debated the move in this space before, but now that we’re on the cusp of PGA week, does the new date feel beneficial for the championship formerly known as “glory’s last shot”?

Sens: Glory’s third-to-last-shot isn’t exactly a thrilling tagline, is it? Not sure what it does for the PGA, but it’s good fun for fans and that’s what matters. Less waiting between the biggies. Bring it on.

Ritter: If we’re pitching new marketing campaigns, I like “Glory comes second now!” The May date feels awkward this year because it’s new and we’re adjusting. Let’s give it a little time — or at least one event — before passing judgement.

Berhow: With apologies to the good folks at the PGA of America, it’s still not the Masters, U.S. Open or British, but yes, absolutely, the PGA has some added mojo with this move. May will be great for it and I don’t think it hurts the British Open, which will be the fourth now, one bit.

Bamberger: I was the last to see the wisdom of this move. Now I have May fever. Getting sandwiched between Augusta and Pebble (U.S. Open) surely helps. Having it at BPB, moreso. But it feels like a great spot. I’m ready to be proven correct…

Shipnuck: It’s a game-changer for the PGA. At the rate we’re going it could soon pass the U.S. Open in the public imagination.

Tiger Woods hasn't played since his Masters victory, but he returns to the site of his 2002 U.S. Open win.
Getty Images

4. In a conference call with reporters last week, Jim Nantz said Brooks Koepka is in the midst of the best run by any player since Tiger Woods in 2000-01. (Nantz also took the press to task for not giving Koepka his due.) What say you — has Brooks been Tiger-like?

Sens: No doubt he’s been the most dominant player in the majors in recent seasons. But to be truly like Tiger of 2000-01, he’d have to be winning pretty much everything he enters, which he’s not.

Ritter: I think Tiger went something like 7-for-11 in majors around that time, which is just absurd. Brooks has been awesome, but vintage Woods is still another level up. Then again, if Koepka wins another major or two this year, well…

Berhow: I don’t know if I’ll ever say anyone has been “Tiger-like” – he won nine times in 20 Tour starts in 2000! — but Koepka’s major run has been spectacular nonetheless. He actually would be getting more attention right now if not for Tiger swooping in and winning the Masters and taking all the headlines for the following month (Brooks tied for 2nd that week, remember). But Koepka has proven he’s not slowing down. Also, tell Nantz to check out our picks to win for this week; Brooks got plenty of love there.

Bamberger: Well, yes — except that the Tiger run was a decade, more or less. But what Koepka has done has been off-the-charts impressive and hard-to-impress Tom Watson thinks he’s the man. What part of him, including the head, is not solid? I expect to be proven correct.

Shipnuck: Brooks has been tremendous. We would be calling this run Tiger-like if he had actually beaten Tiger at this year’s Masters — that was a monumental missed opportunity for Koepka. A real Tiger would have beaten this Tiger.

5. John Daly will be in the field at the PGA Championship, but he’s not walking this beast of a course. Daly, who won the PGA in 1995, applied for a cart through the American with Disabilities Act and was approved by the PGA of America. He’ll be the first pro to ride a cart in a major since Casey Martin in 1998. Martin, by the way, is fine with Daly using a cart. But Nick Faldo, not so much. “I think walking is an integral part of being a pro golfer,” he said during a conference call last week. “I’ll leave it at that.” Do you have any issues with Daly using a cart this week? And should the rest of the field?

Sens: Longtime Daly fan here but, 1) I’m not crazy about the past-champions exemption for this event; feels like Masters-Lite; and 2) this is a guy who made something of a celebration of his poor health decisions for years. In fact, he profited from them. Yeah. I know. Other factors can contribute to the deterioration of his knee but come on, don’t tell me his choices aren’t at least partly related to his inability to walk the course.

Ritter: Yeah, I love Daly and think he’s great for the game, but I’m not crazy about this decision. If Casey Martin came along today, I think golf, and by extension, society, is in a different place now compared to back then, and Casey would be allowed to compete on Tour with his cart. But Martin’s chronic, degenerative illness is different from Daly’s situation, and now the PGA opens Pandora’s box. Should the other AARPers be allowed to take a cart? Should everyone in the field? Is that something we’re comfortable with?

Berhow: Yeah I think you both cover this pretty well. Surprise, surprise, John Daly will be somewhat of a sideshow at the PGA Championship. (Wonder if he can slap advertisements on that E-Z-GO?)

Bamberger: I think there are circumstances where a player should be given a cart. I think accommodation is a worthy goal when it is absolutely necessary. How do you define necessary? As the justice said, you know it when you see it. Daly’s walking I’m sure is inhibited by his arthritis, but is that the main reason he needs a cart? Casey Martin was doing everything in his power to try to be able to walk a course and could not. Can Daly say the same? If he can, I guess he should get one, as a medical necessity. But on available evidence — photos of him in a cart — I am unsure.

Shipnuck: This is embarrassing for the PGA and Daly. He should lose 50 pounds and then see how his knee feels.

6. The boisterous Bethpage galleries have never been shy about letting players know exactly how they feel. (Right, Sergio?) Which player is most likely to get an earful from the New York crowds at this PGA?

Sens: Beloved Everyman that he is, Daly is still bound to take some flack for the cart. And don’t forget Matt Kuchar. He may have settled up with his fill-in caddie, but fans have selective memories, especially drunk ones, and the whole stinginess thing makes an easy target.

Bamberger: They’ll cheer Daly. The New Yorker’s attitude is stick it to the man. (Grew up on Long Island.)

Ritter: I was kicking this around with a colleague this week, and we decided that Rory is quietly lurking as a possible Bethpage villain. First, he’s not an American, which is significant for this debate. He’s also intense and emotional, and he might — might! — react if a loudmouth gave him a shout, which as we all know would only create a snowball effect.

Bamberger: Rory has the candid gene — New Yorkers feast on it. He’ll have no problem.

Berhow: Hmm. Good choices. I remember Rory getting some heat at Hazeltine, which surprised me. But that’s the Ryder Cup and he’s Europe’s big gun and that seems to be the norm (sigh) in Ryder Cup galleries these days. But it’s gotta be Sergio still, right? That or Daly when his cart gets stuck in the (potential) soggy terrain while trying to climb up to the 15th green.

Bamberger: Sergio is on his second-chance tour. He’ll get through the week unscathed. I don’t think it’ll be a player at all. I think it’ll be a rules official who has a stopwatch out the first time a player gets in the gnarly wet rough on Thursday. Three minutes goes fast. I fear I will be proven correct.