Tiger Woods played a nine-hole practice round Sunday afternoon at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Okla., ahead of this week’s PGA Championship.
The 15-time major winner told reporters on site he felt his surgically repaired leg and foot were feeling stronger than when he played the Masters a month ago.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger since the Masters,” Woods told reporters. “We went back to work on Tuesday [after the Masters]. Monday was awful. I did nothing and Tuesday was leg day. So, we went right back after it.
“We started ramping up a week or so ago, played a little bit more golf, and it was good. Everything is better.”
After a gruesome one-car accident in February 2021 left him unable to walk for three months, Woods made his return to golf at the Masters and made the cut.
It ended up being his worst career Masters finish — he was 47th at 13 over par — and it was clear that walking the course was the bigger challenge for Woods than hitting shots.
Tiger Woods remains positive at Masters despite worst-ever score
Woods has made clear he will pick and choose which tournaments he will play going forward rather than return to playing the PGA Tour full-time. He is three major titles shy of tying Jack Nicklaus’ career record of 18.
Woods won the PGA Championship the last time it was held at Southern Hills, hoisting the Wanamaker trophy for a fourth time in 2007.
His caddie, Joe LaCava, also told reporters that he sees Woods’ strength returning.
“Hundred per cent I see him stronger,” LaCava said. “I just think the endurance is there now. I don’t think he’s getting quite as tired as quickly. I see more endurance more than anything.”
“Other than the fact that he won here 15 years ago, I think it’s the stamina and endurance thing that excites him the most.”
Phil keeps low profile
Defending champion Phil Mickelson, Woods’ great rival and the player he has been tethered to throughout much of his career, will not play this week.
Mickelson, who has kept a low profile since his controversial comments about a Saudi-backed global golf circuit, has not played anywhere since February but looked like he might return in Tulsa when his name appeared on the field list.
But Mickelson, who became golf’s oldest major winner last year when he won the PGA Championship just shy of his 51st birthday, said on Friday he would not play, becoming just the third PGA champion not to defend his title after Woods in 2008 and Ben Hogan in 1949, both of whom bowed out due to injury.
There will be plenty of other storylines and great golf played at Southern Hills, most of it from a pack of hard-charging twenty-somethings, including Masters champion and world No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, but Woods is unlikely to be pushed from the spotlight.
While Woods always plays to win, few expect him to add to his tally of 15 majors this week.
He would make the cut at the Masters, but four rounds on Augusta National’s undulating layout proved too much as the 15-times major winner closed with six-over 78s on Saturday and Sunday.
Woods will hog much of the spotlight but will not carry the same pressure as the likes of Scheffler and Jordan Spieth, who has an opportunity to complete the career Grand Slam.
Spieth missed the cut at the Masters for the first time in his career but has been golf’s hottest player since, winning at Hilton Head Island and finishing second at his PGA tune-up, the Byron Nelson.
If the 28-year-old can triumph at the PGA Championship, where his best result was runner-up in 2015, he would join Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Woods in golf’s elite club of Grand Slam winners.
The pressure is also building on Scheffler, who heads to a layout he has touted as his favorite course.
When the year began Scheffler was still chasing a first PGA Tour win. He now has four, a Green Jacket, the world number one ranking. A win at the PGA would saddle him with talk of a rare Grand Slam sweeping all four majors in a single season.
“For Jordan to win the career Grand Slam at still a young age, he’s got to throttle that back,” said twice U.S. Open champion and golf commentator Curtis Strange. “This is his sixth time to try to win the slam. So, he knows what it’s like.”
World No. 2 Jon Rahm and four-time major winner Rory McIlroy bring plenty of momentum to Southern Hills.
Rahm picked up a win at the Mexico Open while McIlroy has top five finishes in his last two events, including a runner-up finish at the Masters after matching the lowest final round in the major’s history.