Tiger chases 16th Major, top rank
Woods, Johnson, Koepka, Rose and McIlroy — all have a chance to top next week’s rankings
Tiger Woods launched his quest for a 16th Major title, and a possible return to world No 1, with a PGA Championship practice round in cold and rainy conditions on Monday.
The 43-year-old American, who snapped an 11-year Major win drought by capturing last month’s Masters, toured the front nine at Bethpage Black in just under two and a half hours ahead of Thursday’s start to the year’s second Major tournament. “I feel good,” Woods told Golfweek. “Got a couple more days of work to get in and I’ll be ready to go.”
Woods hopes to pull within two of the all-time record 18 Majors won by Jack Nicklaus and take a fifth PGA crown, which would match the career record hauls of Nicklaus and Walter Hagen. “To tie Walter Hagen and Jack Nicklaus with five wins would be a very special accomplishment,” Woods said.
With a victory, Woods would also match the all-time career US PGA wins record of 82 by Sam Snead. Woods, whose career had been jeopardised by years of nagging back pain before 2017 spinal fusion surgery, won the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black and shared sixth in the 2009 US Open, but those were in warmer midJune conditions. This marks the first PGA Championship since 1948 to be played in May after the event was shifted this year from its traditional August spot in golf’s lineup.
Woods practised four times last week, including an 18-hole session at the Long Island public layout last Wednesday, two days after accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony. The in-depth shotmaking session at Bethpage was the first time Woods had seen the facility since the 2012 US PGA Barclays tournament.
Sixth-ranked Woods is among five players with a chance to top next week’s rankings.
Top-ranked Dustin Johnson, defending champion Brooks Koepka, England’s secondranked Justin Rose, four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and Woods all have a chance at the top spot.
Johnson, Rose, third-ranked Koepka and fourth-rated McIlroy could take No 1 with a triumph while Woods would need to win, have neither Rose nor Koepka finish second alone and have Johnson finish worse than solo 11th place.
TIGER OLDEST NO 1?
Woods, who has not been world No 1 since March 2013, has spent a record 683 weeks atop the rankings. Should he return to the top, Woods would become the oldest world No 1, overtaking Australian legend Greg Norman for the distinction. Las Vegas Westgate Superbook oddsmakers have Woods as a 10-1 co-favourite with Johnson and two-time US Open winner Koepka with four-time Major champion Rory McIlroy just behind at 12-1.
Woods jumped from 13th to sixth after winning the Masters but hasn’t played since his Masters triumph. This marks only the sixth time in his career Woods has played two Majors without at least one event between them, the first time since the 2013 British Open. Woods had fallen to 1,199th in the world rankings in December 2017 after spinal fusion surgery as a last-ditch move to ease nagging back pain that made simple movements difficult.
From there, Woods contended at last year’s British Open and PGA, won his first title in more than five years by taking the 2018 Tour Championship. That set the stage for Woods to win his fifth Masters green jacket.
EYE ON OLYMPIC GOLD
Tiger Woods has collected plenty of Green Jackets and Claret Jugs during his decorated career, but there is one shiny thing missing from his collection—an Olympic gold medal. That is about the only big thing worth winning that Woods does not have, and something he would like to take care of at next year’s Tokyo Games.
“Would I like to play in the Olympics? Yes,” Woods said. “I’m sure I won’t get many more opportunities going forward at 43 years old to play in many Olympics. That would be a first for me and something I would certainly welcome if I was part of the team.
“Getting there and making the team is going to be the tough part,” he said.
Woods expressed sadness for the death of a staffer at his Florida restaurant whose parents have filed a lawsuit against the golf star, his girlfriend and the business. The parents of Nicholas Immesberger, who died in a drink driving accident last December at age 24, filed the lawsuit saying their son had been overserved alcohol at The Woods in Jupiter, Florida, celebrity website TMZ reported Monday. Immesberger was a bartender at The Woods and knew the golf star personally, according to the report.
Woods expressed his sorrow over Immesberger’s death in response to a question about the lawsuit. “We’re all very sad that Nick passed away,” Woods said. “It was a terrible night, a terrible ending. We feel bad for him and his entire family. It’s very sad.”
The restaurant’s manager is Erica Herman, who is Woods’s girlfriend and, according to TMZ, recruited Immesberger to the restaurant.
Tiger Woods (C) and caddie Joe LaCava during a practice round prior to the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Monday.