By Norm Elrod
(CBS New York/CBS Local) — With the PGA Championship just days away and Tiger Woods’ comeback win at the Masters still lingering in our collective memories, one question must be asked. Can Tiger win another major?
His fifth win at a Augusta last month was more than a decade in the making. And those 10-plus years included plenty of personal and professional challenges. At times, one of the golf’s best ever struggled just to walk, let alone swing a golf club or play professionally. Tiger’s back injury required extensive rehabilitation that left his PGA Tour future uncertain.
Tiger has traveled a long road to return. But after a promising 2018 campaign that ended with a Tour Championship win, his first win in five years, he started 2019 with two top-10 finishes. Nick Faldo, CBS Sports lead analyst and winner of six majors, observed that “by the time he then got to Augusta. I had that feeling… He’s now good enough to get in contention and hang with them.”
Sure enough, he won his fifth Masters. An arduous comeback culminated with one of golf’s great prizes. Tiger has now officially returned.
As CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz said, “I never bet against Tiger Woods. I’ve always thought that there was a chance that we would have what we had on April 14 at Augusta.” That holds true for the PGA Championship as well.
For years his name came up for any tournament he entered, simply because of who he was and what he’d done throughout his career. But now he must be considered a legitimate contender. Nantz believes “…the odds are pretty high that he will win again.” And the odds-makers concur, putting him as the favorite at 8-1.
Tiger can count four PGA Championship titles (1999, 2000, 2006, 2007) among his 15 majors. He also finished in the top 10 on five other occasions, including second place last year. All of those events, however, took place in August, toward the end of a Tour calendar in which Tiger played multiple non-majors. In other words, it was different then.
Tiger also boasts a strong record at Bethpage Black, the taxing course that will host the PGA Championship this week. He won the 2002 U.S. Open there with a score of 3-under par and tied for sixth at the 2009 U.S. Open there with a score of even-par. (Lucas Glover shot 4-under to win in 2009.) His T38 showing at the Barclays in 2012 was marred by injury concerns.
The winning score for the PGA Championship this year will likely fall somewhere around 10-under. Bethpage Black this year won’t be quite the course Tiger faced in previous tournaments. As Nantz recently pointed out, “we’re all conditioned to think about Bethpage and how it was set up for the 2002 and 2009 U.S. Opens. It was never going to be set up like this, because it’s a PGA Championship. Kerry Haigh and the PGA, they like birdies.”
The course will play very differently based on the weather and when the tournament falls on the calendar. “It’s been a cool spring so far, so you’ve not had a growing season,” Nantz explained. “We’re going to get everybody to think that this is going to be knee-high rough, but I promise you it’s not going to look anything like it did in those two Opens.”
Predicting Tiger’s upcoming PGA Championship showing based on past Bethpage Black performances only goes so far. And there’s another reason why historic success is an imperfect indicator: Tiger hasn’t played in a tournament since the Masters a month ago. Previous major wins, including his recent Masters, came on the heals of other tournaments.
Faldo, whose competitive golf career spanned decades, voiced some concern about Tiger’s playing schedule. “The back will rule how competitive he will be,” he said. “He [Woods] hasn’t played competitive golf for five weeks. Can he come out and pick it up from where he left off at Augusta?
That’s a lot to ask of a 43-year-old golfer with a history of back issues on a course that plays long. “It’s a tall order,” Faldo notes. “He’s not making it easy on himself with nothing competitive in between the two majors. And there could be a serious temperature change, and a rough change. So let’s go back a couple of notches with our expectations.”
Playing only majors doesn’t seem like a recipe for future success, even if that sort of schedule allows Tiger ample rest for his back. Competition between majors keeps a player’s game sharp and their body loose for the main events. But can he go back-to-back this time?
Multiple factors suggest he can win the PGA Championship. For one, as Kyle Porter at CBSSports.com points out, Tiger has re-taught himself how to win; he’s now mentally and physically capable. He saw firsthand at the Masters that capturing a major doesn’t necessarily require a peak performance. Playing smarter can and will pay dividends. A wet Bethpage Black — with weather forecasted to be in the mid-60s, with possible wind and rain — actually helps his game.
And then there are the stats. Tiger is among the top 10 on the PGA Tour in strokes gained. He’s also the best major championship golfer over the last three tournaments, averaging a third-place finish.
Tiger, on the prowl for another major, is the favorite this week to win the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. With 8-1 odds, in a field that currently includes 99 of the world’s top 100 golfers, he’s far from a sure thing. Will Tiger add another major to his legendary resume?
CBS coverage airs Saturday and Sunday at 2-7 p.m. Eastern, with additional coverage on CBS Sports Network and CBSSports.com throughout the tournament.