What to expect from Tiger and Koepka at this week’s PGA Championship
The face covering lowered around Tiger Woods’ neck was pulling double duty as a scarf on a cool Tuesday morning at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.
Anyone familiar with the Bay Area knows that mornings are usually brisk, windy, and foggy — and can somehow last all day. The PGA Championship begins Thursday and the best players in the world are busy preparing for the first major of this strange season. That means getting acclimated to a golf course hosting its very first major championship and to a climate quite different than the heat wave most of the PGA Tour restart has been played in.
It was 12 C on Tuesday morning at Harding Park and for Woods that adds a heightened level of concern about his surgically-repaired back.
“I think that for me when it’s cooler like this, it’s just make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly,” Woods said. “I know I won’t have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it’s 95 every day. That’s just the way it is.”
Golf fans will hear about the “marine layer” so often this week that if that’s your drinking game cue, you might not make it to the weekend. The fog brings with it a moisture that makes the air heavy and the ground wet, so expect the 7,251-yard par 70 course to play much longer than it looks on the scorecard.
Harding Park is a rolling Cypress-lined parkland course tucked beside San Francisco’s Lake Merced. The lush rough can be punishing and several players including Brooks Koepka and Ian Poulter have commented on how different the lies can be for balls sitting just inches apart. The patchy rough means there will be some luck involved should your ball miss the fairway.
“You can get some pretty juicy lies and not advance it very far,” Koepka said. “But it all depends. Is it going to be wet? I think it will be, especially in the mornings, so it could be quite tough to control your distance, spin, things like that.” Koepka will be looking to earn himself a couple more pages in golf’s history book this week as the twotime defending champ goes for a PGA Championship three-peat. No player has won this tournament three times in a row since it made the switch from match play to stroke play in 1958. Koepka is also looking to win a major for the fourth season in a row which has only been accomplished by Walter Hagen, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods twice. Over the past three seasons Koepka is a cumulative -70 in majors, 36 strokes better than Rickie Fowler who is in second over that stretch at -34. On Tuesday at the outdoor podium, like Tiger before him, Koepka arrived looking a little weather-worn when he met with onsite and remote reporters including Postmedia.
It wasn’t long, though, before the trademark straight talk returned.
“I break things down very easily,” Koepka said to explain his major success. “I think for some reason people make golf a lot more complicated than it should be. Worried about where shots go, results, you know, putting more emphasis on this week or the major weeks, when to me, it almost seems the most relaxing week of the year.” Now this is the Brooks everyone tuned in for.
“I don’t put any expectations on myself,” he said. “Just go out and go play golf exactly like I know how, and if I do that, then yeah, I probably should win.” Simple as that. Koepka also sees the course playing longer than advertised because of the conditions, but says it should play in his favour.
When Koepka was asked whether he’s going to use shot-tracking data this week to see the difference these conditions have on his distance he seemed to take yet another shot at golf’s biggest hitter Bryson DeChambeau.
“I’m not going to be a scientist and go figure it out on TrackMan,” he said. “I’ll do it myself. Me and (caddie) Ricky (Elliott) have a pretty good idea how far the ball flies in this weather. Played golf for probably 25 years now.”
Both Woods and Koepka are players who thrive under the major championship atmosphere, much of which will be lacking this week with no fans in attendance at Harding Park. Koepka was asked whether it even feels like a major for golfers this week.
“I know it, so that’s all that matters,” Koepka said.
Here’s a hint for any uncertain player: If Koepka is leading, it’s probably a major.
Not to be outdone, the final question asked to Tiger was whether he can win this week.
“Of course,” Woods said with a smile.
Tiger Woods and two-time defending champ Brooks Koepka, inset, got in some practise Tuesday ahead of this week’s PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco.