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Ready to contend

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Anthony L. Cuaycong-125

COURTSIDE

When Tiger Woods says he’s ready to contend at the PGA Championship, all and sundry need to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Nobody knows Tiger Woods better than Tiger Woods himself, so when he says he’s ready to contend at the PGA Championship, all and sundry need to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he does have 15 major championships on his resume, the 2008 United States Open (which he claimed off a playoff despite competing with a double stress fracture of his left tibia), and the 2019 Masters (which he won at a relatively old, and relatively frail, 43) included. Which is to say he has the tools and the fortitude to prevail regardless of the odds.

That said, Woods has handicapped his chances by choosing to stay away from the sport; he heads into TPC Harding Park in San Francisco having played in a tournament setting just once in the last five months. To be sure, he’s being cautious in line with the demands of his body battered by numerous stints under the knife, not to mention time. On the other hand, his lack of reps will hurt his cause, and especially since the ways in which he has tried to stay sharp — among them teeing off for practice rounds in sunny Florida — don’t jibe with current conditions in California. The colder, damper climate figures to affect his surgically repaired back, and, in this regard, he has already seen fit to ease pressure on it by tweaking the length of his putter.

If conventional wisdom isn’t convinced of Woods’ capacity to contend, it’s partly because of the depth of the field. Defending titleholder Brooks Koepka hopes to translate his recent good form to the first three-peat in close to a century. Newly installed World Number One Justin Thomas aims to build momentum off an emphatic triumph at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational. And then there’s beefed-up Bryson DeChambeau, who looks to overwhelm the 7,200-yard course by combining newfound length off the tee with enough accuracy to avoid the myriad Cypress trees and three-and-a-half-inch rough.

Admittedly, though, conventional wisdom doesn’t have to look beyond Woods’ own backyard to justify its absence of confidence in his standing. He does have good memories of Harding Park, where he won every session in the 2009 Presidents Cup and hoisted the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship trophy. On the flipside, his 40th-place finish at the Memorial Tournament three weeks ago proves that past experiences count for squat; despite five previous podium finishes at Muirfield Village, he had an up-and-down output of two strong rounds offset by two poor ones.

In any case, there can be no doubting Woods, per Woods. “This is what I’ve been gearing up for,” he argued in a run-up presser. “I haven’t played that much, he acknowledged, “but [given] the results that I’ve seen at home, [I’m] very enthusiastic about some of the changes I’ve made.” Can he win? “Of course,” he replied matter of factly. Will he win? The answer is much less clear.

 

ANTHONY L. CUAYCONG has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.





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