FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The wait between Tiger Woods’ final putt at last month’s Masters and his first drive at the PGA Championship was 32 days. It was a period of intense celebration, not-so-quiet nostalgia and renewed speculation over whether Woods can catch Jack Nicklaus and his hallowed record of 18 majors.
It was not, however, a period that saw Woods hit a competitive golf shot as the 43-year-old elected to rest a body that will need more and more breaks as time goes on.
At times during Thursday’s first round, the extended layoff, which included skipping out on Wednesday’s practice round because he felt sick, seemed like a mistake.
Over one stretch, it seemed like a calculated blessing.
In the end, Woods carded a meh 2-over 72 on a sunny morning at Bethpage Black, a result that would usually neither crown nor doom him except for the fact that Brooks Koepka seems poised to torch the field.
Koepka drained a 33-footer for birdie on his final hole to cap his round. The truly scary part was that Koepka posted pars on all the par-fives, which told Woods — who sits nine shots back — that Koepka could have gone even lower.
“It easily could have been a couple better,” Woods said.
The same goes for Woods himself.
Woods posted two double bogeys over the first nine holes, rebounded by going birdie-birdie-par-eagle on the course’s first four holes and finished with three bogeys over the last five holes of the round.
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While Woods hit his share of fairways, his bogeys on the fifth, seventh and eighth exposed some putter troubles that could be the product of rust.
All that time off and he couldn’t have hit one putt-putt course?
“I got it back under par for the day, and let a couple slip away with a couple bad putts and a couple mistakes at the end,” Woods lamented.
Koepka, who is the reigning two-time U.S. Open champion, could also become the reigning two-time PGA Championship winner with a victory at Bethpage. He’s won three of the last eight majors dating back to the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills.
“He’s pretty darn good at winning majors,” said Rickie Fowler, who posted a one-under 69. “Over the past few years, it’s something we’ve gotten used to. It’s no surprise.”
Seeing Woods walk alongside Koepka on Thursday provided a stark contrast. The age difference between the two is 14 years and Koepka strides from hole to hole like he just stepped off the cover of a fitness magazine. Woods used to do the same, but time and injuries won’t allow that any more. Woods’ walk was a bit more labored, a bit more sweaty and, at times, a bit more pained.
Those limitations won’t go away at this point and they provide plenty of reasons to believe the challenging Bethpage Black track will break down older competitors as Erin Hills did in 2017. That sloping course was the site of Koepka’s breakout and it’s not hard to see the same story playing out by the time the Sunday sun sets on Long Island.
But those limitations were also cited as the reasons Woods would never post another tour win, let alone a major victory. As Woods’ performance showed on Thursday, the truth is somewhere in between.
There’s time to make up ground, but an even tougher three days lie ahead.
And Koepka doesn’t look like he’s going to surrender anything.
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