All eyes on Tiger's comeback and Jordan Slam quest at PGA
TULSA, United States, May 18, 2022 (BSS/AFP) - Tiger Woods and his incredible
injury comeback and Jordan Spieth's quest for a career Grand Slam will seize
the spotlight in Thursday's opening round of the 104th PGA Championship.
Woods, a 15-time major champion, and three-time major winner Spieth are
grouped with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in a marquee trio for the
first two days at Southern Hills.
Top-ranked Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, 2021 British Open winner
Collin Morikawa and second-ranked Spaniard Jon Rahm are among the most
fancied players and are together as well, but might struggle to match the
Woods group spectator count.
"Tiger's here, so nobody really remembers that I'm here," Scheffler said. "So
it's all good."
Woods suffered severe leg injuries in a February 2021 car crash, spending
weeks hospitalized and months unable to walk.
His emotional return at last month's Masters ended with a share of 47th and a
stamina struggle, but he saw walking 72 holes as a major feat and says he's
stronger as another endurance test looms.
"I've gotten stronger since then, but still it's going to be sore and walking
is a challenge," Woods said.
Asked if he can win, Woods said, "I feel like I can, definitely. I just have
to go out there and do it."
Among those trying to stop him will be Rahm, who comes off a victory two
weeks ago at the US PGA Mexico Open.
"He's Tiger. He's a competitor," Rahm said. "He's going to try to win every
single time and anytime he tees up, the world wants him to win.
"Yeah, totally expected for the attention to be on him, but it doesn't really
change anything of what I want to be doing this week."
Like Rahm, Spieth wants to be having his name engraved on the Wanamaker
Trophy. If he wins, Spieth will join Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben
Hogan and Gene Sarazen as the only players to sweep all four major titles in
Spieth won last month's Heritage title and was second at last week's hometown
Byron Nelson event. He expects Southern Hills will be formidable.
"I think it's going to be one of the higher scoring PGAs that we've seen,"
Spieth said. "It's a great test."
World number four Cameron Smith of Australia, a top-five Masters finisher in
three of the past five years, is ready for the struggle of playing in the
group just ahead of Woods.
"There can be a lot of external noise with crowds and just a lot more moving
parts," Smith said. "Just another thing to really think about. Just make sure
to spend a little bit more time worrying about what's happening outside to
make sure when you're inside that shot, everything's perfect."
Tricky winds are expected, with the strongest breezes on the first two days.
"The forecast is different every day in this wind," Woods said. "It's
supposed to be all different directions. We're going to see a different
course almost every day."
That, warns Rahm, also comes with tee boxes made for adjustable distances,
changing the holes each day no matter the weather.
"They can truly make it as difficult as they want to be," Rahm said. "They
can really, truly manipulate the score out here very easily, even if the
conditions are benign and we don't get too much wind."
- Scheffler No.1 swagger -
Scheffler, happy to hide in Woods's shadow, will try to become the first
player to win the green jacket and PGA Championship in the same year since
Nicklaus in 1975.
"It's right in front of you. It's just really hard," Scheffler said of the
course. "You know what to do. It's just hard to actually do it."
Four-time major winner Brooks Koepka sees Scheffler as the man to beat.
"He's number one in the world. That usually has something to do with it,"
Koepka said. "I think confidence, too. Number one in the world, you've got
that swagger when you walk on the range. I know I did.
"I'm pretty sure everybody else that has been number one, you've got a little
extra strut. You've got a little something and I think it's noticeable."