TULSA, Okla. – The temperature was in the high 40s on Sunday morning, and didn’t get much better during the time Tiger Woods would have been at Southern Hills for the final round of the PGA Championship, making his decision to withdraw all the more prudent.
Heat is Woods’ friend, and it was his misfortune that he ran into cold temperatures for the third round of the Masters last month and again on Saturday here. Those early-morning wake-up calls to prepare for a round of golf are made even more arduous knowing the difficulty in staying loose.
So the good vibes from grinding to make the 36-hole cut with a second-round 69 were quickly erased through the discomfort and struggles of a cold-weather 79 on Saturday – Woods’ highest score ever at the PGA Championship.
It is certainly fair to wonder if Woods came back too soon, or if he suffered a setback. And without knowing the answers to those questions, next month’s U.S. Open at The Country Club would seem to be in serious doubt.
This is probably a good time for some perspective. Less than two months ago, there was virtually nobody outside of Woods’ circle – aside from the most optimistic or ardent of Tiger followers – who believed he would be back at the Masters. The PGA didn’t even seem possible. If there was any hope for this year, it was the British Open at St. Andrews.
Consider what Woods said in December at the PNC Championship, when told that Matt Kuchar believed his game was at a PGA Tour level: “No, no, no, no. I totally disagree. I’m not at that level. I can’t compete again these guys right now, no. It’s going to take a lot of work to get to where I feel like I can compete with these guys and be at a high level.’’
And then in February at the Genesis Invitational, where he served as tournament host: “Being out here on Tour, you get exposed. And that’s the beauty of this sport, you get exposed. There are no carts and you have to work your way around it, you have to be fit enough to be able to do this sport at a high level. You have to be able to practice at a high level to expect to come out here and win and I have not done any of that.’’
Seven weeks later, Woods was playing in the Masters, where he opened with a 71, struggled on the weekend and called completing 72 holes a success.
Woods was lowering our expectations while undoubtedly thinking there was a chance. I asked him last week at what point he had it in his mind that the Masters might be a possibility, and Woods danced around a direct answer, but gave some hints as to the difficulty.
He referenced the practice round at Augusta National a week earlier with his son, Charlie, and Justin Thomas.
“I did it but man it hurt for a couple days,’’ he said. “But I was able to do it, and maybe I could work my way into it somehow and just kept pushing and kept hoping that I could somehow figure out a way. I have to endure some uncomfortableness. Even that week as I played practice rounds, I was still trying to figure out ‘can I do this over 72 holes?’ and I was able to do it. Unfortunately I just didn’t have the endurance or the stamina and wished I would have putted better so I would have given myself a chance.
“I’ve put in a lot of hard work with my team, and I believe in them and what they have been able to get me to do. I just have to go out there and obviously do it and hit the golf shots.
“Now, I’ve had to alter my golf swing here and there and practice sessions and work on things, and I’ve had to do a lot of shadow swinging in front of mirrors because I’m just not able to handle impact, but I’ve gotten better and stronger since then, and will continue to improve.’’
Woods has shown plenty of promise in his game, but as his caddie, Joe LaCava said, his “body is not cooperating.’’ Will it? When? And does Woods need to reassess, take more time and go at this more slowly?
Remember that a year ago at this time, Woods was not walking unaided. He wasn’t that far removed from being in a bed at his home. He may have been in a wheelchair, if not using crutches.
And yet he has made the cut in both major championships this year, a feat all of the following failed to accomplish: Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Sam Burns, Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay, Sergio Garcia, Daniel Berger and Louis Oosthuizen.
There’s some firepower in that group, and Woods did what they could not.
The U.S. Open might be in doubt but the British Open is now six weeks away. Is that enough time to get ready for St. Andrews?
A Tough Week (Mostly) for the Stars
Justin Thomas was the outlier. Ranked ninth in the world heading into the PGA Championship, he came from seven back on Sunday and won a playoff over Will Zalatoris to claim his second major title.
The rest of the top 10 did not fare so well. No. 1-ranked Scottie Scheffler missed the cut. Rory McIlroy finished eighth, but walked away disappointed as he led after the first round and found himself nine shots back starting the day.
No. 2 Jon Rahm was never in the tournament, tying for 48th. No. 3 Collin Morikawa, the 2020 PGA champ, seemingly could not make a putt and tied for 55th. Cam Smith tied for 13th, Patrick Cantlay missed the cut, Viktor Hovland tied for 41st.
McIlroy, after a brief run of glory on the front side with four straight birdies, didn’t make another one and finished with a 68. He did not speak to reporters afterward. Jordan Spieth, a pre-tournament favorite, finished with a 69 to tie for 34th.
Thomas was seemingly one shot short when he couldn’t get a 10-footer to drop for birdie on the last hole, but Mito Pereira’s double bogey opened his chance.
Xander Schauffele, ranked 10th coming into the week, had a quiet tournament but tied for 13th.
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Then there is Dustin Johnson, who entered ranked 12th in the world and missed the cut. Johnson, a two-time major champion, has slowly slipped out of the top 10 as he’s rarely contended in recent months. His last top-5 finish – aside from a fourth at the WGC-Match Play event this year – was a victory 15 months ago at the Saudi International.
What Will Phil Do Next?
That long-time marketing slogan has seemingly applied in real life for months. And now it comes into play again as Phil Mickelson has sat out the first two major championships of 2022 in the wake of his controversial comments about the PGA Tour and the Saudi-backed LIV Golf Invitational Series.
Mickelson was the talk of the early-part of the week at Southern Hills, and even as the tournament began, he was the subject of considerable conversation due to his absence as the defending champion.
Now it gets interesting again.
Does Mickelson – who asked for a release for the first LIV Invitational Series event but was denied like all PGA Tour players – head to the Centurion Club outside of London for the June 9-11 tournament? Does he play the following week at the U.S. Open? Both tournaments. Neither? Only one?
A decision looms. The first LIV event is now just three weeks away. At some point, perhaps as early as this week, the field or at least a portion of it will be announced. Despite the denial of releases by the PGA Tour two weeks ago, LIV Golf organizers asked for commitments within short order prior to the PGA Championship.
Who shows up – and who doesn’t – for the first $25-million tournament will be closely watched.
1. Justin Thomas made the biggest final-day comeback at the PGA Championship since John Mahaffey in 1978 also overcame a seven-shot deficit in the last round to win.
2. With a tie for third, Cameron Young assured himself of a spot in next year’s Masters. He will also play in the U.S. Open (top 60) and earned a spot in the British Open (top 50) because he is 30th in the world. Monday was a cutoff point for both majors.
3. Rory McIlroy’s 65 was his lowest opening-round score at a major since the 2011 U.S. Open at Congressional, where he went on to win his first major championship. He ended up in eighth place.
4. The first round of the PGA Championship marked the first time that Scottie Scheffler did not begin a tournament with a sub-par score in 2022. Scheffler shot 1-over 71 and went on to miss the cut.
Aaron Wise, like all pro golfers, has plenty of examples of errant tee shots hitting spectators. But he’d never been hit by such a shot himself.
It happened to him Friday at the PGA Championship, when Cameron Smith’s tee ball hit him in the head as he was looking for his own ball in the rough on the 7th hole. Although Smith and those on the tee yelled “fore!,” Wise said he never heard it. The ball hit him without warning.
Although he said there was some pressure on the right side of his head, Wise said he was checked for a concussion and was cleared. He actually managed to finish that round and woke up Saturday feeling decent enough to continue. He made five birdies in a round of 71.
“I was definitely rattled,’’ said Wise, who was knocked to his knees and needed several minutes before he could continue. “I kind of had to calm myself down and so those last few holes weren’t so much about golf for me it was more about getting in and making sure everything was OK with the doctor and seeing where things stood.’’
Wise said he understands why such a thing is nearly inevitable with spectators.
“Especially when the wind is up to 30-40 miles per hour like it was here,’’ he said. “People are in danger. Hopefully as players we yell and people can say something and they can kind of protect themselves.’’
Wise shot 71-70 on the weekend to tie for 23rd.
A LIV Loss
LIV Golf has hired a bevy of highly-regarded executives to bolster credibility and help get what is hoped will one day be a league of tournaments started. But it lost one of them last week when Sean Bratches, who came from F1 and prior to that was at ESPN, resigned. He seemingly did so in the wake of comments made at a media day outside of London two weeks ago by commissioner Greg Norman.
Sports Business Daily reported the departure of Bratches, who was involved in various sponsorship initiatives as well as bringing in former Fox executive David Hill to help coordinate LIV’s TV and streaming efforts.
“Sean Bratches is under contract with LIV Golf Investments for the next 90 days as he transitions out of his current role,’’ LIV said in a statement.
U.S. Open Countdown
There are 24 days until the first round of the U.S. Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, and a significant deadline for qualification just passed. The top 60 in the Official World Golf Ranking as of Monday not already exempt earned their way into the tournament. June 13 is another cutoff for the top 60, with the tournament dates June 16-19.
Monday is also when two final qualifiers will take place, one in Japan and the other at Lakewood Country Club and Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas, where approximately 120 players are competing for a still-to-be determined number of places in the U.S. Open. Among them are PGA Tour players such as Matt Kuchar, Brian Harman, Graeme McDowell, Hunter Mahan, Carlos Ortiz, Rory Sabbatini, Nick Taylor and Kyle Stanley.
There will be nine more final qualifiers on June 6, with one in Canada and eight in the United States.
> Tiger Woods weighs in and congratulates his friend Justin Thomas.
> Jack Nicklaus, too.
> There were players taking their own video of Tiger Woods at the PGA.
> Brooks Koepka had some car troubles at the PGA Championship.
> Phil Mickelson’s absence from the PGA Championship
The PGA Tour heads back to Texas for the Charles Schwab Challenge played at Colonial Country Club, where a strong field has entered one of the longest-running tournaments on the schedule.
Defending champion Jason Kokrak will be joined by the likes of Scottie Scheffler, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. Bryson DeChambeau, who has not played since the Masters due to surgery on his left hand and withdrew from the PGA Championship, has also entered.