Let’s be real. Despite this event boasting a ridiculously-composed defending champion who has been nearly unstoppable on the biggest stages, and hosting a 25-year-old golf prodigy who would become the sixth player in PGA Tour history to capture the career grand slam with a win, Tiger Woods is THE story at Bethpage Black this week.
Last month, Tiger finally snapped his infamous 11-year majorless streakwhen a brilliant game plan carried him to a two-stroke victory at The Masters, his fifth career title at Augusta (first since 2005), and 15th career major championship.
Now, he heads to Bethpage Black, the site of his 2002 U.S. Open triumph with large-scale victories in two of his last six starts (2018 Tour Championship), top-six finishes in his last three majors starts, and confidence that has eluded him for more than half a decade.
“Whether I’m dominant or not going forward, that remains to be seen,” said Woods, when asked about becoming the dominant force he once was.
“What I know is I need to give myself the best chance to win the events that I play in, and sometimes that can be taken a little bit more breaks here and there and making sure that I am ready to go and being able to give it my best at those events.”
A win this week would not only get Tiger within two of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major championship win record, it would also tie Sam Snead for the most victories in PGA Tour history (82). This will be the first time the 43-year-old has teed up competitively since that Masters triumph, which has been a somewhat controversial strategy.
The time off after the Masters has been a tradition for Woods, but with the new condensed championship schedule, it resulted in no appearances between majors.
“The only other time where I’ve taken four weeks off prior to major championships is going from the British Open to the PGA. Usually that was my summer break, and take those four weeks off and then get ready for the PGA, Firestone and the fall. So I’m always looking for breaks,” said Woods on Tuesday in a press conference at Bethpage State Park.
“Generally it’s after the Masters I used to take four weeks off there. Now, with the condensed schedule, it’s trying to find breaks.
“You know, 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. 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’ve got to be aware of that.”
As is the tradition of at the PGA, Woods – the reigning Masters winner – will be paired in the opening rounds with the two other most recent major champions, Brooks Koepka (PGA) and Francesco Molinari.