OKLAHOMA, USA: Tiger Woods and his incredible injury comeback and Jordan Spieth’s pursuit of a career grand slam will be in the spotlight in Thursday’s opening round of the 104th PGA Championship.
Woods, a 15-time Major champion, and three-time Major winner Spieth will be grouped in a marquee trio with four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy for the first two days at Southern Hills.
Senior Masters champion Scottie Scheffler, 2021 British Open winner Collin Morikawa and runner-up Spaniard Jon Rahm are among the most sought-after players and are also together but could struggle to reach the Woods group viewership.
“Tiger is here, so nobody really remembers that I’m here,” Scheffler said. “So everything is fine.”
Woods suffered serious leg injuries in a car accident in February 2021, spending weeks in the hospital and being unable to walk for months.
His emotional return at the Masters last month ended with a 47th-place finish and an endurance battle, but he saw walking 72 holes as a huge accomplishment and says he’s stronger than another endurance test.
“I’ve gotten stronger since then, but it will still be sore and walking is a challenge,” Woods said.
When asked if he can win, Woods said, “I definitely feel like I can. I just have to go out and do it.”
Among those trying to stop him will be Rahm, who clinched a win at the US PGA Mexico Open two weeks ago.
“He’s a tiger. He’s a competitor,” said Rahm. “He’s going to try to win every time and every time he serves, the world wants him to win.
“Yes, he’s expected to get the attention, but it doesn’t really change what I want to do this week.”
Like Rahm, Spieth would also like to have his name engraved on the Wanamaker Trophy. If he wins, Spieth will become the only players, along with Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen, to have won all four major titles in their careers.
Spieth won the Heritage title last month and finished second at the event in his hometown of Byron Nelson last week. He expects Southern Hills to be impressive.
“I think it’s going to be one of the highest-scoring PGAs we’ve seen,” Spieth said. “It’s a great test.”
World No. 4 Cameron Smith of Australia, a top five Masters finisher in three of the last five years, is ready for the fight to play 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 one more thing to really think about. Just make sure to spend a little more time worrying about what’s happening outside to make sure everything’s perfect when you’re inside.”
Challenging winds are expected with the strongest breezes for the first two days.
“The forecast is different every day with this wind,” Woods said. “It should all be different directions. We will see a different course almost every day.”
That, Rahm warns, also comes with tee boxes that are designed for adjustable distances and change holes every day, regardless of the weather.
“They really can make it as difficult as they want for themselves,” Rahm said. “You can really manipulate the score out here very easily, even when the conditions are favorable and we don’t get too much wind.”
Scheffler, who likes to hide in Woods’ shadow, will aim to become the first player since Nicklaus in 1975 to win both the Green Jacket and the PGA Championship in the same year.
“It’s right in front of you. It’s just very difficult,” said Scheffler about 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 1 in the world. It mostly has to do with that,” Koepka said. “I also think confidence. No. 1 in the world, you got that pride when you walk out on the range. i know i did it
“I’m pretty sure everyone else who was number 1 has a little more foothold. You have that certain something and I think it shows.”