AFP/ Tulsa, United States
• The world’s best golfers eye glory at this week’s PGA Championship in Tulsa
Tiger Woods excited spectators and rivals alike with a back-nine practice round yesterday at Southern Hills, continuing his comeback from severe leg injuries before this week’s PGA Championship.
Woods, whose incredible return at last month’s Masters came only 14 months after a rollover car crash, brought a similar buzz to the roars he created at Augusta National.
“Just watching him at the Masters, that was unreal, just the crowds and what it does to a tournament when he tees it up,” said Norway’s Viktor Hovland.
“Just getting used to big crowds, loud crowds.”
Woods played the front nine on Sunday and said his surgically repaired right leg - held together with pins, rods and screws - feels stronger than it did a month ago.
“I’m excited,” Woods told reporters on Sunday.
“I’m not going to play that much going forward, so anytime I do play, it’s going to be fun.”
Woods made the cut at the Masters but battled through pain simply to walk 72 holes and faded to his worst-ever Augusta rounds of 78, the 15-time major winner calling the effort to finish four rounds among his greatest feats.
The former world number one, now ranked 818th, won the 2007 PGA at Southern Hills, although the course underwent an $11mn revamp in 2018. If his body has the strength and stamina to walk 72 holes, his skill could make him a major threat.
“If there’s ever a question if Tiger can contend, we can all just kind of chuckle at that. Never is he going to be in a field where he can’t contend,” home-state hero Talor Gooch said.
“He might not have as good of odds in some places but I think as long as he’s in the field, if he ever gets it slotted, no matter how old he is, no matter what’s going on, he’s always going to have a chance.
“I mean, it’s Tiger Woods.”
Woods, 46, seeks his 16th career Grand Slam title, two shy of the record set by Jack Nicklaus, and a 73rd US PGA Tour triumph, which would break the all-time record he now shares with Sam Snead.
“When Tiger is in the field... there’s just a different energy,” Gooch said. “Every time he’s in the same field, you just cherish it. We all know what he’s been through.”
DeChambeau is coming
Bryson DeChambeau, the 2020 US Open winner who underwent left hand surgery last month after missing the cut at the Masters, tweeted on Monday he will practice the next two days and see about playing the event.
“On my way to Southern Hills CC,” tweeted DeChambeau. “Going to test how I am feeling over these next couple days and decide on whether to compete. Looking forward to being in Tulsa.”
Jordan Spieth will try to complete a career Grand Slam by winning the PGA after a second-place finish in his hometown PGA event last weekend and a win last month at the Heritage, his game in rare form.
Spieth captured the 2015 Masters and US Open and the 2017 British Open and makes his sixth attempt to join an elite group to complete the sweep that includes Woods, Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Gene Sarazen.
Phil Mickelson, who became golf’s oldest major winner last year when he won the PGA at Kiawah Island at age 50, withdrew from the event on Friday. It’s only the fourth time in the past half-century a major winner will not defend his crown.
Mickelson has not played since controversial comments about the Saudi-backed LIV Golf series were revealed in February.
The six-time major winner later apologized and said he needed a break from golf.
Mickelson’s absence was felt amongst fellow pros in Tulsa yesterday.
“I know it has been a rough go the last few months, a tough situation to be in,” Mickelson’s former Ryder Cup playing partner Rickie Fowler said. “It’s unfortunate that he didn’t feel like the place that he should be right now is here.”
Hovland said players wanted to see the US left-hander return this week.
“It’s a bizarre situation, that’s for sure,” Hovland said. “It’s not often the defending major champion doesn’t come back to defend.
“I think we all would have liked to have Phil here and tee it up and see how he would have done. It’s just a weird situation.”
Tiger, Spieth and McIlroy will play together
Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy were grouped together for the opening two rounds of the PGA Championship, the PGA of America announced yesterday. Creating a star-studded pairing that figures to draw a huge crowd of spectators, the epic comeback story of Woods will play out alongside Spieth’s bid for a career Grand Slam and McIlroy’s quest for a fifth major title.
The trio will start Thursday’s opening round from the 10th tee at 8:10 a.m. (1310 GMT) and Friday’s second round from the first tee at 1:36 p.m. (1836 GMT). Woods, a 15-time major winner, returned from severe leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash at last month’s Masters and struggled to walk 72 holes at Augusta National but finished level 47th despite playing the weekend in pain.
Spieth, a three-time major champion, will try to complete the career Slam by capturing the Wanamaker Trophy after a PGA Heritage victory last month and a runner-up effort last week. McIlroy, chasing a third PGA title, has not won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship.
Going off the 10th tee Thursday three groups ahead of Woods and company at 7:38 a.m. will be Tokyo Olympic gold medalist Xander Schauffele, fellow American Tony Finau and 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan.
The 8 a.m. 10th tee Thursday group just ahead of Woods will include world number four Cameron Smith of Australia, American Will Zalatoris and sixth-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway. Just behind the Woods pairing will be Masters champions Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson and US Open winner Justin Rose. Thursday afternoon will feature four-time major winner Brooks Koepka of the United States alongside Australian Adam Scott and Ireland’s Shane Lowry at 1:03 p.m.
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