Tiger Woods' resurgence sets the stage for the PGA Championship's return to May
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – As Bethpage Black readies for the PGA Championship, what would Rodman Wanamaker think?
They keep moving his event around on the calendar, like sale items on the department store floor he owned. That’s his name on the PGA Championship trophy, a 34-pound whopper, more than six times the weight of the British Open’s Claret Jug. It’s been awarded – with both hands, obviously -- to the winner of this tournament in August, February, July, October, September, June, December. And this year, May, for the first time since 1949 – or as the PGA media folks pointed out, 25,552 days ago. The only months the PGA Championship hasn’t been played are January, March and April.
So the 2019 version is going to take a little getting used to at the start. The PGA usually means wilting heat. This year, they’ve had to dress for the chilly winds of Long Island. The PGA Championship, with snow in the forecast in some places in the nation? Padriag Harrington was asked Tuesday for his feelings about this calendar hop.
“Cold. At the moment.”
But… “It suits the game of golf. It suits the FedExCup, it suits the Ryder Cup. Everything about it gives a nice spacing to golf. I do believe the PGA has taken one for the team with it.”
For decades, it has shared the stage with the dog days of the baseball season and NFL training camps. This year, the scores will be coming in from the conference finals in the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs. It has long been the last major of the majors, something of a white flag for the final lap of the season. This time, the cheers from Augusta and spring have barely faded.
But if anyone is a little disoriented by the change, well, we all know the good news, don’t we? The most current winner of a major – the reigning major champion, if you will – is named Tiger Woods. Just in case anyone has forgotten.
The last time Woods showed up at a major coming off winning the previous one was the 2008 Masters. Twitter was new, George Bush was president, Nick Saban had coached one season at Alabama, the Houston Astros were in the National League and Steph Curry was a college sophomore. That long ago.
So the PGA hit the jackpot. If this tournament needed a proper teaser to build up interest for the new time slot, Sunday at the Masters provided it. Welcome to the 2019 PGA Championship, brought to you by… how’s Tiger doing?
That’s a good start to something dramatic.
“It’s great to be part of the narrative,” he was saying Tuesday.
Part of the week’s intrigue will be to see how quickly Woods can recover from his Augusta exertions, at 43 with a repaired back. “There’s more days I feel older than I do younger than my age,” he said. “That’s one of the trickier things. And then, you add the golf component to it.”
Part of it will be to see how the rest of the field reacts to a revived Woods. They marvel at his journey and what it means to the game. But it also means everyone is back in the business of having to cope with his aura – now that it is reality again, and not history.
This from Rory McIlroy: “I think he’s grateful and thankful that his kids get to see a little bit of what he was before they were around. He’s a different person. He’s in a different space in his life and I think he just seems very grateful for this opportunity to do what he loves, and compete. I think when you’re in that headspace, where you’re just thankful to be out there, good things happen.”
And this from Harrington about Woods in the Masters: “I think he was just interested in getting the job done – that’s a tough Tiger to beat when he’s in that frame of mind.”
And this from Brooks Koepka, on the idea he could have any fear of a rejuvenated Woods as he tries to defend his PGA championship: “I mean, what’s the point in fearing anybody? We’re not fighting; unless I was standing there and not prepared for a punch. Other than that, he’s not going to knock my teeth in. He’s not going to hurt me. So what’s there to be afraid of?”
Part of the intrigue is the fact that the field is loaded. Nice, round numbers are always good for a storyline, and 100 has been the operative figure for this week. As in all the top 100 ranked golfers in the world scheduled to be here. Then Justin Thomas dropped out with a wrist injury, so we’re down to 99. Still.
So the pieces are in place for the PGA to make a rousing return to the month of May. Good thing. In 2019, major sporting events are setting a pretty high bar in theatrics. Think about what has already happened this year.
Alabama shockingly dismantled in the football championship game by Clemson, who became the first major college team to go 15-0 since 1897.
The Mother of All Blown Calls costing New Orleans a trip to the Super Bowl, where Tom Brady would become a champion again at the age of 41.
Virginia twice trailing in the last second of regulation in the NCAA Tournament, but surviving both to take the national championship.
Woods. The Masters. You know the rest.
All four division winners knocked out in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, including a Tampa Bay team that tied an all-time record for regular season victories, then was promptly swept by a wild card team from Columbus that had never won a playoff series in its existence.
Maximum Security as the Kentucky Derby winner – for about 10 minutes. And then replaced by a 65-1 long shot.
The final four teams in the NBA playoffs including a Toronto franchise that has never been to the NBA Finals, a Milwaukee franchise that hasn’t been there in 45 years, a Portland franchise not there since 1992 – and the Golden State Warriors, trying to become the first team in 53 years to reach five Finals in a row.
The Kawhi Leonard last-second Game 7-winning shot for Toronto last Sunday that bounced ‘round the rim and was heard ‘round the NBA world.
And now comes the PGA, a week after Mother’s Day, on a public golf course that has, among other things, a 608-yard par-5. The rest of the golf universe has been wondering what it would be like to have a go again at the true Tiger Woods. They’re almost all here to try. That’d be compelling in any month.