Long Island, New York: Tiger Woods looked off from the very first hole of the PGA Championship. After shooting 3-over 73 to miss the cut Friday evening at Bethpage, he still pointed to the scoreboard.
“You know, I’m the Masters champion at 43 years old, and that’s a pretty good accomplishment,” Woods said.
In some ways, his 5-over 145 and lack of juice from the get-go just further illustrated how special the 2019 Masters was and always will be. The moment was so big that, in hindsight, it was unreasonable to think Woods could get up for another major so soon after it ended.
Woods hit just 3 of 14 fairways in Round 2 and still had a chance to make the cut at the last hole. He finally put himself in a good spot off the tee, leaving just 113 yards for a potential birdie to get back to 4 over and secure a Saturday tee time.
It was almost unfathomable to think he wouldn’t make birdie from that spot with a sand wedge in his hands. That’s just what Woods does when he’s in danger of missing the cut. A mere par seemed laughable.
Then Woods came out of his swing and missed well short of the green and reminded us that there are no certainties in life or golf.
He chipped it to 5 feet for a closing par and trudged up a crosswalk toward the scoring area.
Brooks Koepka was right behind him having just set a new 36-hole major scoring record, but the fans were still chanting Woods’ name.
“You know, I’ve so enjoyed being the Masters champion again and the PGA was a quick turnaround, and unfortunately I just didn’t play well,” Woods said. “I didn’t do all the little things I need to do correctly to post good scores and put myself in position to shoot good scores.”
Woods smiled often throughout a six-minute media session, more than usual after a week like this. Same goes for caddie Joe LaCava ahead of an unexpected Friday night drive back to his home in Connecticut.
There was obvious disappointment because these guys are true competitors and didn’t come here to birdwatch. It was also unusual territory, Woods’ first missed cut since the 2018 U.S. Open and ninth all-time at a major. It was also the first time he’s ever missed the cut at a major after winning the one that proceeded it.
The bottom line is that this course demands precision off the tee and Woods just didn’t have it.
“It wasn’t like he drove it all over the map, but miss the fairway by six or eight feet and you’re in trouble here,” LaCava said. “It wasn’t like we drove it awful. So I’m not worried about that. Whenever the next tournament is, if we got to (the Memorial) we’ll be fine there and we’ll be fine at (the U.S. Open) at Pebble.”
Koepka, meanwhile, drove the ball wherever he wanted to. Launched it high and straight off the tee to set up a golf course all his own. This is one of the longest, most difficult, major venues in the country, and Koepka looked like he was playing a practice round at the John Deere Classic.
Whereas Woods opened with a double bogey at the par-4 10th hole Thursday, Koepka dropped a 40-footer for birdie and hasn’t slowed down. He holds a seven-shot lead over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott and his 128 total is the lowest 36-hole score in major championship history.
“He’s got 9 irons when most of us are hitting 5 irons and 4 irons, and he’s putting well,” Woods said. “That adds up to a pretty substantial lead, and if he keeps doing what he’s doing there’s no reason why he can’t build on this lead … you know, relative to the field, I was about that long early in my career.”
Woods doesn’t have that distance advantage anymore, but he’s still the best irons player on Tour. He just didn’t give himself enough chances to show that this week and spent too much time in Bethpage Black’s unforgivable rough.
Woods saw the whole course last week and played nine practice holes Monday, but that was the last of his on-course prep. He wasn’t feeling great and decided he’d rather rest than force the issue, though he didn’t think that was the reason for the early exit.
“I just made too many mistakes and just didn’t do the little things I need to do,” Woods said. “You know, I had a couple three-putts. I didn’t hit any fairways today. Did a lot of little things wrong.”
It was only Woods’ 19th missed cut on Tour as a professional. For comparison’s sake, Koepka already has 18. But he was 17 shots better than Woods in Rounds 1 & 2 and well on his way to major No. 4.
Woods was on his way back home still fresh off major No. 15. He didn’t seem too discouraged. Matching the physical and emotional peaks he achieved at Augusta will always be a tall order. He wasn’t up for it at Bethpage, but the end result might help push him back in that direction.
“I wouldn’t consider it a setback, but certainly frustrating and disappointing,” LaCava said. “… I think if anything he might work even harder now.”
Brooks Koepka sets tour record
After making major championship history with a 36-hole score of 128, Brooks Koepka didn’t go to dinner or celebrate with friends and family.
“I’m not hitting it well, we’re going straight to the range,”the three-time major champion said to swing coach Claude Harmon III.
Koepka (-12) holds a PGA Championship-record seven-shot lead over past major champions Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott (-5) after Friday’s second round at Bethpage Black.
“This probably sounds bad, but today was a battle,” Koepka said of his 5-under 65 that shattered the 36-hole scoring record for a major championship. “I didn’t strike it that good. I was leaking a few to the right. But I don’t think — the way I hung in there today and battled it, I think that was probably more impressive than yesterday, not having your A game, but still being able to shoot a great score.”
The performance he’s referencing was his 7-under 63 on Thursday, which set the course record at Bethpage Black and was one shot off the PGA Championship record of 62.
The 29-year-old Koepka joked about his strength and ability to hit out of Bethpage’s thick rough, but his putting has been even more impressive than his strength and length off the tee.
“I feel as comfortable as I’ve ever felt putting this week,” Koepka said. “You know, like I said, poa isn’t my favorite grass to putt on, but I felt like my speed control has been pretty good.”
Koepka has just 55 putts through 36 holes this week. He’s made 14 birdies, 20 pars and just two bogeys.
Pretty good, indeed.
Koepka also noted that he got “lost” and “uncomfortable” earlier this year after not working with putting coach Jeff Pierce for 8-9 months.
“I started getting too mechanical, and if you know me, that’s not me, to start thinking about the stroke or thinking about where my hands need to be or where shoulder position is or anything,” he said.
“Usually I just set up and go, and we’ve finally gotten back to that. The stroke zeroed out, and I feel comfortable over the ball, and actually feel like I’m going to make it,” Koepka added, noting that he feels like one of the best putters in the world inside eight feet.
While most of the crowd following Koepka was there for group member Tiger Woods — who missed the cut at 5-over — the lively New York gallery quickly got behind Koepka, who’s dominance overshadowed Woods’ quest for a 16th major title after winning the Masters last month.
“It’s always fun to get in Tiger’s group. I enjoy the crowds,” Koepka said, noting all he could do was laugh at some of the hecklers there to support Woods. “I enjoy (the fans) cheering for (Tiger), the energy that they bring. It makes it exciting, and especially if you’re going to play good.”
Does he think we’re all witnessing the passing of the torch?
“I mean, I’ve got 11 more to go, or 12 more to go before that happens.”
At this rate, it may happen sooner rather than later.
The No. 3-ranked Koepka has won three of the last seven majors he’s competed in and looks to be unstoppable on golf’s biggest stage. Now, just 36 holes stand between a title defense and a fourth major title.