SAN FRANCISCO – Tiger Woods says cold weather and lack of reps won’t stand in his way of claiming a record 83rd PGA TOUR victory and 16th major championship at TPC Harding Park this week.
Woods has played just four PGA TOUR rounds since February – at last month’s the Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide – thanks to a combination of his troublesome back and the COVID-19 pandemic.
With temperatures at the coastal-adjacent public course are forecast to range from the mid 50s to just the low 60s, and with the high possibility of morning fog and chill from the marine layer, Woods will need to work hard to warm up his back just to get through four rounds of this 102nd PGA Championship.
“It’s always 20 degrees cooler here than it is down there in Palo Alto. We knew that coming in. I think the weather forecast is supposed to be like this all week: Marine layer, cool, windy, and we are all going to have to deal with it,” Woods said ahead of Thursday’s opening round where he will begin at 8:33 a.m. local time alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
“For me when it’s cooler like this, it’s just make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly. 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.”
Woods had to scramble hard at the Memorial Tournament just to make the cut on the number before finding his way to a tie for 40th. That fight gave him some confidence, but also focus on what to work on since. It was his first start in five months after finishing 68th at The Genesis Invitational in February. His only other starts this season were his win at the ZOZO CHAMPIONSHIP in Japan last October and a T9 at the Farmers Insurance Open in January.
The veteran has four wins and three runner-ups previously at the PGA Championship and knows TPC Harding Park well from due to his amateur and college career. He’s long had great success in Northern California including winning a World Golf Championships event there in 2005 and being part of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team in 2009.
“I feel good. Obviously I haven’t played much competitively, but I’ve been playing a lot at home. So I’ve been getting plenty of reps that way … the results that I’ve seen at home, very enthusiastic about some of the changes I’ve made and so that’s been positive,” Woods added without giving up the changes he referenced.
“Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I’ve been gearing up for. We’ve got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it. This is going to be a fun test for all of us. The rough is up. Fairways are much narrower than they were here in 2009.”
To compete at the top of the leaderboard, Woods will need to be accurate off the tee so he can lean on his incredible iron game. While he doesn’t have enough rounds this season to qualify for rankings, Woods would sit 135th on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee but third in Approach the Green.
The bombers might be able to unleash more speed and distance, but if Woods can find the fairways, not many can match his iron play. As such, the game plan for Woods will be fascinating to watch. The rough is long in places and can provide the type of lie someone with a bad back does not want. Does he try to go long and risk the rough knowing he can still likely attack with a short iron, or does he dial back for accuracy and throw darts from the short grass?
“It’s a par 70; it’s not as long numbers-wise, but the ball never goes very far here. It plays very long, even though it’s short on numbers,” Woods says of the 7,251-yard layout.
“The big holes are big and the shorter holes are small. It can be misleading. They have pinched in the fairways a little bit and the rough is thick. It’s lush. With this marine layer here and the way it’s going to be the rest of the week, the rough is only going to get thicker, so it’s going to put a premium on getting the ball in play. It’s going to be a test.”
When asked if he was ready for that test and if he could win, Woods flashed his trademark smile.