FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Tiger Woods, dressed appropriately to combat the biting chill in the air and the spattering of raindrops from above, got back to work Monday at saturated Bethpage Black.
Wood, wearing extra layers and a wool ski cap he draped over his golf hat, didn’t resent the foul weather. Instead, his spirits were high despite the temps being low as the week of the 101st edition of the PGA Championship commenced.
Shortly after teeing off on the first hole at 7:40 a.m. with the thermometer reading 43 degrees, Woods got a chuckle after the impact of his approach to the green brought up a couple of worms. Yes, thousands of worms littered the fairways after a drenching on Sunday. The extra spectators have been in waiting at Bethpage Black as prolonged stretches of rain and bitter temps have hovered over the public course for weeks.
Woods had another chuckle at the uphill par-5 fifth when his second shot, with 250 yards to the front of the green, came up 25 yards short despite his mighty whack with a 3-wood. The ball just won’t go anywhere in the frosty and thick air.
But Woods said he feels good going forward despite not playing since his emotional victory at the Masters. It was his 15th major triumph but first in 11 years, his fifth Masters title but first in 14 years.
“I feel good,” Woods said. “Played at home for four days. Got a couple more days of work to get in and I’ll be ready to go.”
Woods spent a considerable amount of time on and around each of the greens as he polished off the front nine in 2 hours, 20 minutes, the heavy, wet rough rimming the putting complexes sometimes giving him fits. But other than a few head-scratching moments, Woods was spot on.
“First and foremost, he looks good and he’s moving around well,” said Joe LaCava, Woods’ caddie. “That’s the first thing I look for, especially considering the conditions. He’s driving it well; the game looks pretty good, and his short game around the greens looks really good. I know it’s just a practice round but still, looks pretty solid.”
LaCava said he isn’t concerned about Woods taking a month off between starts, that going from one major to another isn’t as alarming as some would think.
“Being well rested is more important than anything,” LaCava said. “And winning the Masters took a lot out of him. Playing another tournament, wherever it might have been, I don’t think it would have been a setback, but it would have taken a lot out of him. Probably wouldn’t have done him any good because he would have been too tired. When you’re tired there’s no need to play.
“He’s happy, he’s in a good mood, he’s in good spirits. And I think he misses playing. How can’t you be in good spirits when you just came off a major win? He’s relaxed and fresh. I love it.”
And it wasn’t as if Woods just sat on the couch for 30 days. Woods returned to the course for a practice round at The Medalist in Florida on April 27 with Rob McNamara, his constant companion and playing partner and a vice president for TGR Ventures, and then ratcheted up his work in the gym and on the course a week ago. On May 6, President Trump awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Woods in a ceremony in the Rose Garden at the White House.
Two days later, Woods spent five hours playing all 18 holes at Bethpage Black. LaCava said the day proved crucial as Woods got reacquainted with the course where he won the 2002 U.S. Open, finished in a tie for sixth in the 2009 U.S. Open and tied for 38th in the 2012 Barclays.
All three of those events were played in the summer, however, in temps that were about 35-50 degrees warmer than what greeted the golfers on Monday. And the forecast calls for highs reaching just the mid-60s this week.
“Based on the forecast today and tomorrow, it was really important to play last week,” LaCava said. “And it was warmer. Hopefully, it will be warmer come Thursday, so that was big because we have an idea of yardages and runouts now.”