The countdown toward the record of 18 major victories is back on, big time, and every major golf championship now will be a new chance for Tiger Woods to chase history. Next stop: Bethpage Black.
Golf’s entire map changed Sunday afternoon when Woods won the Masters, his first victory in a major in 11 years and the 15th of his career. His pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships, a race that recently seemed dormant if not altogether impossible, is a “thing” again. So there is no reason to think Woods can’t win No. 16 soon, as soon as next month, when the PGA Championship comes to the famed public course on which he won the U.S. Open in 2002, major No. 8.
Brooks Koepka, who held off Woods at the PGA outside St. Louis last year and finished in a tie for second here Sunday, summed it up this way: “I think 18 is a whole lot closer than people think.”
It sure is closer than it seemed when Woods was inactive or uncompetitive because of his back problems. That he was able to recover all the way to a fifth green jacket says that anything is possible, such as two major wins in a row. “Absolutely incredible,” Koepka said.
Tony Finau, the longtime Woods fan who played with his idol in the final group Sunday and finished three shots behind him, said: “I don’t know a lot of people believed that Tiger would win another major. From what I saw today, obviously, he’s not going anywhere.”
In other words, he is not going to be knocked off his historical track. When Woods was asked if he thinks Nicklaus should hear footsteps, the 43-year-old said with a smile: “I don’t know if he’s worried or not. I’m sure he’s home, just chilling and watching.” Actually, Nicklaus did issue a congratulatory tweet: “A big well done from me . . . I am so happy for him and for the game of golf. This is just fantastic!!!”
Also, it is a jolt of energy for the Black Course, where Woods won the 2002 Open after winning the Masters two months earlier. He would have been the big draw next month even if he had missed the cut at Augusta, but now his entry will represent something bigger.
“As a fan, I love it. I think it’s awesome,” Koepka said. “I’m glad he’s back. It’s probably one of the coolest things to be a part of it, even though you finished in second place and, you know, you’re a little bummed out.”
On Sunday, Woods wouldn’t touch the prospect of No. 16 and beyond: “I’m sure that I’ll probably think of it, going down the road. But right now, it’s a little soon. I’m just enjoying 15.”
But that doesn’t stop everyone else. For golf aficionados and casual observers, his return to Bethpage on May 16-19 now has become the next leg of a revival tour.
The Black proved in 2002 that it has the stature to accommodate stardom. It has a unique personality that will be a perfect setting for Woods’ next stand. The fact that he is back on the 18-majors trail is a bigger story than concerns over mid-May Northeast weather (the PGA has been moved from August).
“It could be a roll of the dice. I don’t know what’s in store, but it has every chance to be incredible,” said Keegan Bradley, a Woods friend and former PGA champion who knows the Black better than any other tour pro from having played it so much when he was at St. John’s. “I love Bethpage, I love playing in New York. For Bethpage’s sake and New York’s sake, I just hope the weather is good.”
Forget about what the temperature and precipitation metrics say. Because of what Woods did here Sunday, the atmosphere on Long Island next month will be off the charts.