In any case, Woods is no has-been; no Hall-of-Famer whose credentials, storied as they may be, lie firmly in the past.
Question is, who’s surprised? Yes, he’s got a stiff back — no small cause for alarm given the beating and rectifying surgeries Tiger Woods’ spine has gone through over the course of his career. And the 44-year-old has had little match practice: when he teed it up on Thursday at the 2020 PGA Championship, it was only the fourth time Woods’ has played competitive golf all year. And yet, when a rusty Woods poured in some incredible putts and scrambled his way to an excellent finish in the first round of the PGA Championship, no one was the least bit surprised.
The same rules just don’t apply to Woods. In any case, Woods is no has-been; no Hall-of-Famer whose credentials, storied as they may be, lie firmly in the past. No sir, the 15-time Major winner also happens to be the reigning Masters Champion. And he certainly played like one in his first outing at Harding Park shooting a two-under 68—three strokes adrift of the leaders. “I let a couple go here and there, but for the better part of the day, it was a very solid round,” said Woods.
“I’m happy and content.” He’s really mellowed, Tiger has. I can’t remember the last time he was happy with a round unless it had been especially spectacular. Not that a two-under round is a walk in Harding Park: Rory McIlroy, the world No one three weeks ago, shot a level-par 70 while Justin Thomas, the top-ranked player in the world right now, a shot a 72. So there you have it: the man’s in the mix, and as improbable a TW victory seems on paper, it’s entirely possible. Coming from Woods, the extraordinary is totally par for the course.
Woods’ performance set the stage for a bunch of players seeking redemption from the golfing Gods to make a run for it.
Former world number one Justin Rose
hasn’t had much to be pleased about recently. “Nine times out of ten, you walk off slightly frustrated because you’ve left a few out there, but today was one of those rare days where you got the most out of your round of golf,” quipped Rose after a classic four-under 66 to open his account.
The blast-from-the-past honours though belonged entirely to Martin Kaymer. The German is a bit like Timothy Dalton—who briefly played James Bond in the 1980s. Fans remember him as that obscure British actor who played Bond in just two films. Kaymer too has the distinction of being ‘that German player,’ who was once the top-ranked golfer in the world. Since his heyday, Kaymer has slid down a greasy pole in the rankings and is currently placed 125th in the world. After shooting a four-under 66 in the first round, Kaymer said he’d gone back to watching tapes of his 2014 US Open triumph just to get his mojo back. “I went on YouTube and I found that video of us playing the back nine. I know you shouldn’t live in the past, but if the past can help you in the present moment, I’ll take it,” he reflected. 2014 was a watershed year for Kaymer: he won this event at Whistling Straights as well as the Players’ Championship.
Then there’s Zach Johnson—the doughy player famous for playing with a hooded clubface. Johnson who won a Major over a decade back and hasn’t contended for ages is lying tied-third after a first round 66. Rounding off the comeback challenge is the co-leader Jason Day. The Australian has seen better days, specifically, the 2015-16 season in which he rattled off seven victories including the PGA Championship, the Players’ and a WGC event. Day, also a former world number one, hasn’t won since the 2018 Wells Fargo Championship and dropped out of the World’s Top-50 rankings. Day, self-admittedly has been drowning in self-pity. “I finally had enough of feeling sorry for myself, and it’s easy to do that in this game because it is so mentally tough. You can start blaming everything else but yourself. Sometimes you’ve just got to pull your pants up and just move on,” Day said. The recalibration has thrown instant results: Day has had three straight Top-10s leading into the PGA Championship and now sits right on top of the leader-board. Talk about the power of manifestation.
But all these players — Woods, Rose, Day, and certainly Johnson and Kaymer-are still outliers. The firm favourite is two-time defending champion Brooke Koepka, who’s looking at matching Walter Hagen’s feat of three consecutive PGA Championship titles. The Major specialist shrugged off his golf-hibernation with a flawless four-under 66 to trail the leaders by one. Koepka has been amongst the top three on the leaderboard now for eight consecutive rounds of this tournament. Chew on that for a bit before you negate his hat-trick bid for the Wanamaker Trophy. The man himself is embarrassingly confident. “I just need to tidy a few things up, and we’ll be there come Sunday on the back nine. You know, to win three in a row here, it would be special.” Can’t argue with his record-Koepka knows how to win this thing.
I’ve left my favourite subject for the end: the proponent of the greatest golf swing experiment in the modern era-Bryson De Chambeau. By now everyone has heard the story of how the ‘golf scientist,’ dramatically overhauled his swing and body during the lockdown to came out looking like The Hulk that could smash the golf ball 320 yards…on average. Chambeau’s near-200 miles-per-hour ball speed has never been seen in competitive golf before, and no one was surprised after his driver shaft snapped in two after a particularly violent lash. Chambeau was allowed a replacement, and didn’t speculate on why the shaft broke. “Material is material. You keep wearing it and using it like that, you know, stuff is going to break down. I’m just glad it lasted this long,” he said with a straight face.
It’s a unique, spectator-less PGA Championship folks, and it’s got the biggest field we’ve seen in 2020. The final round gets underway tonight—don’t miss it.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game