Tiger Woods is back as he proved April 14 by winning his fifth green jacket. But can he tame Bethpage Black, the site of his 2002 U.S. Open victory?
Here are Golfweek’s staff picks to win the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, New York.
Koepka can hang with anybody, no matter what anyone says. And he’ll be hanging with the Wanamaker Trophy again come Sunday night (weather permitting). What’s not to like about the guy who held off Tiger Woods last year to win the PGA Championship? What’s not to like about the guy who’s won the past two playings of the U.S. Open, the first coming on a wide-open, windless prairie in Wisconsin, the other on a brick-hard, wind-swept punisher on Long Island? What’s not to like about the guy who came within one successful birdie putt on the 71st or 72nd hole that would have forced a playoff with Woods in the Masters last month? He’s long, which will play well on the soft Bethpage Black. He’s strong (physically and mentally). He’s won three of the last seven majors he’s played. He’s reunited with his old putting coach Jeff Pierce.
He’s been the pick for weeks and I’m only more encouraged by his strong showing at the Byron Nelson. Length will be huge this week, especially with some expected rain throughout. One can easily make a case for Rory or DJ or Tiger, but the days of Koepka flying under the radar should be long gone. Course setup should be pretty straightforward and lead to another big-name leaderboard. No reason to think Koepka won’t continue to do what he’s done the past two years, and he won’t find any bulletin board material here. I’ve learned my lesson. Koepka’s tear continues at Bethpage.
Last year on Long Island he became the first man in three decades to win back-to-back U.S. Opens. This year on Long Island I predict he’ll become the first man not named Woods to retain the PGA Championship in 82 years. It’s not just his length. Koepka’s unflappable demeanor is a weapon on a course that brings ’em all to their knees. All he needs is some perceived media slight early in the week to fire him up.
Tiger Woods hasn’t hit a competitive shot since his final putt on Sunday at the Masters. He spent a good portion of one of his practice days at the White House, hanging out with Donald Trump while receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. We have no idea how his back is doing, how he’s hitting the ball, what he’s thinking or how optimistic he’s feeling heading into the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, where he won the 2002 U.S. Open. No matter. The stars have aligned this year. All those leaders falling by the wayside Sunday at Augusta National while Tiger played conservatively to be the last man standing? It’s a sign. This is Tiger’s Spring, and he’s going to win again this week at the PGA.
While it may seem odd that he will turn up at the second major without having competed since winning the Masters, Tiger Woods is coming off an epic win. The confidence he exudes suggests Woods has found swing keys and a level of clarity hearkening to his best years. Also, his record in U.S. Opens at Bethpage is strong — a win in 2002 and T6 in 2009, while most of the world’s elite players have had little success in events played over the Black Course. While it will be playing about 8,500 yards after a rainy spring, Woods doesn’t care. He has his iron game locked in and his long iron game is superior. He reverses last year’s PGA Championship finish by edging Brooks Koepka in a playoff.