Bethpage – Tiger Woods pondered 20 years ago if he was destined to be a
one-major wonder, but the reigning Masters champion remains golf’s
biggest star despite an epic fall from grace.
Woods, who ended an 11-year major win drought last month at Augusta
National, competes for a 16th major title starting Thursday at the 101st
PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
The 43-year-old American could match the all-time US PGA record of 82
wins set by Sam Snead and return to the world number one ranking for
the first time since March 2013.
“It’s great to be part of the narrative,” Woods said. “My narrative
spans 20 years now… You’re measured in decades. Because of the nature
of the sport, we’re able to hang around a lot longer and still be
Woods won his first major at the 1997 Masters but his second came at
the 1999 PGA Championship at Medinah, when he held off Spanish teen
upstart Sergio Garcia and launched a run of seven wins in 11 majors,
including the “Tiger Slam” of four in a row in 2000-2001.
“That was a big moment because at the time I’d won one major by 12
shots and hadn’t won since then, and it was a big deal to get a second
major championship and get the numbers to start to accrue,” Woods said.
“To be able to hang in there and somehow get that done, it just
helped keep the momentum going from ’97 and then not winning anything in
’98. It just started the momentum and you can see what happens in 2000,
2001 and 2002. But ’99 was a big moment to kick start all that
And what a journey it has been. Woods appeared destined to break the
record of 18 major wins set by Jack Nicklaus after collecting his 14th
at the 2008 US Open despite playing Torrey Pines on a broken left leg.
But he lost his first major when ahead after 54 holes to South Korean
Yang Yong-eun at the 2009 PGA. Three months later, the revelation of a
sex scandal led to divorce while knee and back injuries took a toll on
Woods feared he might never life a normal life due to back pain until
2017 spinal fusion surgery allowed him to return to golf. In 2018 he
won the Tour Championship and contended in two majors and last month he
took a fifth green jacket at the Masters.
“Anything post these
back surgeries is a bonus,” four-time major winner Rory McIlroy said of
Woods. “I still don’t think people understand what he did in April and
coming back and with everything that he’s been through. It’s
“Whether it’s the greatest comeback in sports, that’s probably up for
debate, but from what I’ve experienced and the things that he said when
I’ve been around him, to be 2 1/2 years ago from looking like maybe not
playing golf again to winning the first major of the year and being the
favorite going into the second, that’s unbelievable.”
Sixth-ranked Woods tees off Thursday alongside British Open champion
Francesco Molinari of Italy and defending champion Brooks Koepka, who
seeks a third consecutive US Open title next month at Pebble Beach.
McIlroy, Koepka, England’s Justin Rose and Woods all have a chance to
overtake American Dustin Johnson for the world number one ranking.
Woods is finding a new path to success in his second act, as Irish three-time major winner Padraig Harrington noticed.
“He’s more comfortable with who he is at the moment. He has probably
found a better balance to his golfing life,” Harrington said. “His game
looks solid. He’s hitting lots of greens in regulation.
“At Augusta, he closed it out. He just was interested in getting the
job done. That’s a tough Tiger to beat when he’s in that frame of mind.”
Getting a second chance at stardom after nearly losing it has Woods in a perfect situation, McIlroy said.
“He’s in a different space in his life and he just seems very
grateful for this opportunity to do what he loves and compete,” McIlroy
“When you’re in that headspace where you’re just thankful to be out
there, good things happen, and good things have started to happen for