2019 PGA Championship: Seven reasons Tiger Woods may win once again at Bethpage Black
Woods went 11 years between majors, but now he might go just one month
It honestly feels sometimes like the only question I have gotten as a golf writer over the last five years is the following: Will Tiger Woods win again? There are other variations, of course. Can he win again? Will he win a major? Which major will he win? Now that so many of those have been answered with a resounding, green-tinted "Yes!" we turn our attention to the rest of his career runway. And we start asking the questions again.
Can he win again? And again and again and again? So with that in mind, I scribbled down seven reasons Woods could win the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. Only two humans on Earth know what it feels like to win one of the four big ones at that course, and Woods is one of them. Here are seven reasons there won't be a third.
1. He relearned how to win: I don't believe Woods is going to win the 2019 PGA Championship, but I do believe he could win. I thought the same thing going into the 2019 Masters. I did not really think that going into the first three majors of 2018, and I only mildly thought it before the 2018 PGA Championship. In fact, I don't think Tiger could have won the first few majors of 2018. I don't think he was physically or mentally capable.
If you replayed the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open 10,000 times, Tiger wouldn't win any of them. Reteaching himself what winning feels like at the 2018 Tour Championship was -- and I realize this sounds crazy for somebody who has won now 81 times on the PGA Tour -- so key to him winning the Masters. He needed to not just believe he could do it again, he need to know it. And now he does.
2. Masters moments: Not only does he now know it, he's also seen first-hand that he doesn't have to have his very best stuff to do it at a major championship. Tiger was really good in the last two days at Augusta National, but he wasn't elite physically. The difference between him and everyone else is that. If he wins another major, I think he'll draw from that reservoir as much as he did from the Tour Championship one when he won No. 15 at Augusta.
3. Greens in regulation machine: Tiger leads the PGA Tour in greens in regulation percentage, and as Sean Martin pointed out recently, that's a useful stat come winning time at Bethpage.
Bethpage Black's main challenge is from tee to green, because once players get on the greens they will find relatively flat putting surfaces with subtle slopes.
Hitting greens from the rough was one of the ways Woods was able to separate himself from his competition during his best years. It's a big reason for his success at places like Firestone and Torrey Pines. And it should come in handy at the PGA Championship.
He's also third on the PGA Tour in proximity to the hole from the fairway. Where he hasn't fared well is proximity from the rough (currently outside the top 200). With fairways as narrow as they were for the 2009 U.S. Open, accuracy off the tee will be paramount for Woods (we'll get to that in a moment).
4. Time away from golf: It's become clear at this point that Tiger getting rest is far more important than Tiger staying sharp. He has only skipped every tournament between majors a handful of times in his career, but he's also won when in that position before.
The last time Woods took this much time off between starts was the beginning of 2019 when he didn't play competitively from early December 2018 until the end of January. The result? He shot an opening-round 70 at the Farmers Insurance Open, which is tied for his best first round of the season. That's another sticking point for me with him, too. If he opens with something solid -- something under 70, let's say -- I think he'll either win or contend to win late in the week. His weakness -- inasmuch as somebody who's top 10 in strokes gained and doesn't have a finish outside the top 30 on the season has one -- is that he hasn't started strongly. Woods ranks 58th in Round 1 scoring average but inside the top 35 in every other round.
5. He's kind of owned Bethpage: In the four tournaments that have been conducted on this course, Woods has finished DNP, T38, T6 and 1st. His average finish at the two majors here is 3.5, and it goes even deeper than that given the weather conditions back in 2009 when Lucas Glover clipped him by four.
6. Weather seems favorable: While I don't love what the cold, wind and rain could do to his body, I do like what it means for his game. A wet Bethpage is probably a good thing for Woods, who is currently averaging 299.6 yards off the tee and able to mostly keep up with the young guns on the PGA Tour when he wants to. He's also driving it accurately (for him) and is 70th in driving accuracy compared to 127th last season. That will be monumental so he doesn't have to find too many greens in regulation from Bethpage's burly rough and native grass.
7. Special week on deck? Nobody loves a good narrative more than the masses who will gather around the people's country club on Long Island this week, and Woods' Masters victory will have whet the collect appetite of these New Yorkers. Whereas in 2002 and 2009 they backed the left-handed horse in Phil Mickelson, I would imagine they'll be willing a different legend home this week at their beloved track. That might be nothing, but I bet Tiger drinks it in and plays it up this week at Bethpage.
The odds that Tiger, the favorite this week, wins the PGA Championship are not good. He's no longer standard deviations better than everyone else. He is one of 10 or 15 or 20 players who feasibly could win it. A far cry from where he was two years ago, but maybe an even farther cry from where he was two decades ago. Regardless, he has a 3 percent chance of winning No. 16 this week.
The overall numbers are not in his favor. And yet there are little hints here and there and sometimes both here and there that make you wonder if in fact he will win. If he'll take home consecutive majors for the first time in 13 years. If he'll win his 16th (!) and get within two of Jack Nicklaus. If he really will win the first two legs of the grand slam before heading to a place where the best golf in the history of the sport has ever been played by the man who is currently playing at as high a level as we imagined possible in this post-surgery portion of his career.
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