FARMINGDALE, N.Y.—There are 156 players in the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. But on Thursday morning, all eyes are on one competitor.
Granted, Tiger Woods has been the eye of the sport since he told the world hello in 1996. However, the latest iteration of Tiger-mania ramped up to 10 following the 43-year-old’s triumph at the Masters this spring. Not only was Woods “back,” his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus was, amazingly, renewed. That the first stop in this venture would be Bethpage Black, a venue where Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open, only fanned the excitement.
However, that excitement has slightly morphed into intrigue after Woods didn’t show up to Bethpage on Wednesday. Woods’ team said the 15-time major winner was opting for rest, and that he’ll be ready to go. Conversely, it was clear at his early-week press conference that Woods was battling a cold, and Wednesday’s absence means Tiger has not played the course since Monday (he opted for practice on Tuesday, also citing rest).
So as Woods prepares to capture Major Win No. 16, will we see the Woods that was locked in with his body and game at Augusta, or one who’s battling a bug? Woods tees off Thursday morning at 8:24 a.m. on the 10th hole, with Open champion Francesco Molinari and U.S. Open and PGA champ Brooks Koepka. Golf Digest will be here to detail Woods’ trek around Bethpage, as well as the other proceedings in Farmingdale, with our first round Live Blog.
9:50 a.m.: Tiger’s been relying on the power fade off the tee early. And he goes back to it on the brute, uphill par-4 15th hole. That’ll leave him a little farther back to this elevated green, but being in the fairway at Bethpage is critical. Tiger’s done that here again.
9:45 a.m.: Koepka buries his putt at the 14th to move to two under. Man is a straight machine. Though Woods blows his try five feet by, he cleans up the scrap to remain at two over.
9:40 a.m.: Woods’ tee shot at the par-3 14th to the middle of the green. Appeared he misjudged the wind, coming up a club-and-a-half short. Another long birdie awaits.
9:30 a.m.: A look at the early leaderboard shows Charley Hoffman, J.B. Holmes and Matt Wallace at two under. I don’t think the Bethpage ecosystem is ready for Holmes and his pace come Saturday. Pray for us all.
9:26 a.m.: After laying up, Woods has 80 yards to the pin…and, similar to 10, flies the flag by a mile. Something is not clicking this morning.
Woods recovers with a nice chip to gimme distance, but a curious start to his round.
9:15 a.m.: Woods plays a nice fade off the 13th tee, one that finds the fairway at the 600-yard plus par 5. Probably too far out to get home in two, but doing what he needs to do after the rough start.
9:10 a.m.: Tiger puts a nice roll, but it doesn’t break right. Would have been a fantastic bounce-back, yet it’s a par he’ll gladly take.
9:05 a.m.: From 200 yards out, Woods goes with a 4-iron. Slightly tugged and tad short, it finds the green. Not exactly a makable putt, but back-to-back pars would go ways in righting the ship.
9:00 a.m.: On the 12th, Woods goes with a baby cut. Doesn’t go far, but it finds the fairway. As does Brooks, who missed his short birdie putt on the 11th.
8:50 a.m.: Woods finds the green at the 11th, but a lengthy birdie awaits. Meanwhile Brooks looks like he’s playing a pitch-n-putt, dropping his approach to six feet.
Woods gives a nice effort on the birdie, but it rolls just to the right. A par he’ll gladly take though after the disaster at 10.
8:44 a.m.: Following that brutal start, Woods elects a fairway wood off the tee, putting one right down the middle at the 11th. Still, our thoughts and prayers to those that made the 30-minute journey to the 10th, only to watch that horror unfold.
8:40 a.m.: Woods’ pitch is a pretty good effort, leaving five feet. But he blows his putt by. Double. Not what Woods, or his backers, had in mind.
8:36 a.m.: Oh boy. Woods’ wedge shot flies the green. About as bad as a shot as you’ll see Woods make from 100 yards. Meanwhile Koepka drops a 40 footer for bird from the fringe. Business as usual.
8:32 a.m.: Despite being just a yard or two off the fairway, Woods has to lay up from 200 yards. Mean up-and-down for par awaits.
On the bright side, Molinari finds his ball, choosing to lay up as well. Koepka’s approach goes a tad long, meaning 0-for-3 from the marquee group at the 10th.
8:28 a.m.: Woods hits a cut on the first drive of the day. A ball that cuts a bit too much, finding the rough. Though not ideal, it’s better than Molinari, whose tee shot goes so far left he has to reload. Meanwhile Brooks finds the middle of the short stuff, because of course he does. We are off.
8:15 a.m.: Tiger is out at the 10th, which requires a car ride and sherpa to reach. He gets some work in at the temporary green and is about to roll.
8:00 a.m.: Good news. Thomas Pieters birdies the 13th. Bad news: He played the first three holes six over. Still, progress.
7:46 a.m.: As much as one can read into these things, Woods still looks a tad under the weather, but it doesn’t seem to be effecting his warm-up, blasting ball after ball into the stratosphere. Along with getting one closer to Jack, a win at Bethpage would tie Tiger with Sam Snead for the all-time PGA Tour wins mark. Although, as colleague Alex Myers points out, it’s a record that should (arguably) already belong to Big Cat.
7:30 a.m.: Woods won’t tee off for another hour, but he won’t get the chance to ease into his round. The 10th through 12th is one of the hardest stretches in all of golf, and it’s showing early going. The first six players played the 10th in six over. Kiradech Aphibarnrat started double-double, Thomas Pieters goes triple and bogey, and Brian Gay stumbles to the 13th tee at four over. There’s a “Warning” sign for a reason, folks.