BETHPAGE, May 16 — Tiger Woods began his quest for a 16th major title today with an ill-starred double bogey at formidable Bethpage Black in the 101st PGA Championship.
Sixth-ranked Woods, coming off a Masters victory that snapped an 11-year major win drought, stumbled badly in an early back-nine start by the feature trio of reigning major champions.
Defending champion and playing partner Brooks Koepka opened with a 40-foot chip-in birdie while British Open champion Francesco Molinari salvaged bogey after losing his tee shot left into the tall Long Island weeds.
The trio began at the par-4 10th in cool and sunny conditions at the first PGA Championship played in May since 1949, the event moving from August this year in a revamp of the global golf schedule.
From one of Bethpage’s toughest tees, Woods missed the fairway and found the rough, hit a layup then went over the green and chipped to six feet. But he lipped the right edge on his bogey putt to make double bogey.
Molinari found the fairway with his second tee shot, reached the green and two-putted for bogey.
Koepka found the fairway but went over the green on his approach only to sink a magnificent chip-in birdie and share the early lead.
With a victory, Koepka would become the first player to own back-to-back titles at two majors at the same time.
“I like my chances this week,” he said. “I’m playing good. If I do what I’m supposed to do, then I think I’d be tough to beat.”
A victory would match Woods with Sam Snead for the all-time US PGA win record at 82 and move him two shy of the all-time major win record of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus — as well as put Woods halfway to a calendar Grand Slam for the first time since 2002.
The 43-year-old American superstar’s electrifying triumph last month at Augusta National has made him the focus of attention on the same layout where he won the 2002 US Open.
Koepka held off Woods to win last year’s PGA at Bellerive before Woods turned the tables at the Masters, completing an amazing comeback after 2017 spinal fusion surgery that ended years of back woes.
“It was great to see him win,” Koepka said. “I was a little bit disappointed. I felt like I let it slip a little bit. But at the same time, that’s what our sport needed. We needed him to win a major.”
Drives, stamina are key
Finding the fairways will be crucial over the 7,549-yard, par-70 layout as sloping greens harden after earlier rain that made dense rough tougher.
“In order to win this one, driving is going to be at the forefront,” Woods said. “You’ve got to hit it not only straight but you’ve got to hit it far.”
Woods has not played competitively since the Masters, making this only the sixth time in his career he has played back-to-back majors.
He skipped a planned nine-hole practice round Wednesday for rest, having done a five-hour in-depth tour of the course last week and played nine holes early Monday.
“There’s definitely going to be a component to stamina as the week goes on,” Woods said. “Four days over a tough championship that is mentally and physically taxing takes its toll.”
Tiger eyes number one
Woods could become world number one for the first time since March 2013 by winning. He would need top-ranked Dustin Johnson to finish worse than solo 11th and neither Koepka nor world number two Justin Rose of England to finish second alone.
England’s Rose, third-ranked Koepka and fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy could all overtake Johnson with a victory, with McIlroy and Johnson set for afternoon starts and Rose opening with a bogey at the 10th.
Woods could become the first golfer since Nicklaus in 1975 to win the Masters and PGA Championship in the same year. — AFP