The one glaring problem with moving the PGA Championship to May had nothing to do with the potential cold, the short growing season or the condition of the course. The trouble, it turns out, is that a month is just not long enough for a 43-year-old to come down from the top of the world and get back up there again.
Tiger Woods could not regroup, reload or repeat what he did at Augusta National in April. Winning his fifth green jacket took everything he had, physically and emotionally. So, he never felt healthy enough or motivated enough to play between then and now. And trying to win a major at Bethpage Black without preparing is like trying to pass the med school entrance exam without studying.
He missed the cut at 5 over par and took the air out of the week here. After a stretch when he was right on everything, he was wrong when he predicted on Tuesday, “It could be a hell of a tournament.”
Everything had gone perfectly for the first PGA at Bethpage. The weather has been great, except for some stray clouds and sprinkles Friday and the Black Course has looked terrific. That continued the momentum that began when Woods dramatically won the Masters, ending his 11-year major title drought. The very next day, ticket sales for the Sunday round of the PGA sold out.
As of 7 p.m. Friday, just after Woods was eliminated from the competition, StubHub.com showed that the price for a $110 face-value Sunday ticket had fallen to $40.85. Television ratings on CBS are likely to go the same route.
These things happen. As Lucas Glover said on Monday, describing the rough turns that his career has taken since he won the 2009 U.S. Open on Bethpage Black, “That’s golf.”
Woods said that he just never felt well this week: “I wasn’t moving the way I needed to.” Spinal fusion surgery has given him a second chance on a career that seemed finished two years ago, but it does not give him a blank check to be as limber as he was at 26, when he won the U.S. Open at Bethpage.
We all probably were a little skeptical about his chances after he played only nine holes of practice this week. He had planned to play nine more on Wednesday, but did not make it to the course, acknowledging later that he was sick.
Starting with a double bogey on his first hole Thursday, Woods never was sharp. His rank in driving accuracy through two days was a tie for 126th. He couldn’t rally on Friday the way Westchester club pro Rob Labritz did, following a 75 with a 69 to make the cut at 4 over. Woods could not make one last iron shot when he needed it, on No. 18. His mishit landed on the fringe, not on the green when he needed to birdie the hole.
Now the tournament has a gaping hole where the major attraction should have been. No knock on Brooks Koepka, golf’s emerging major star, who played alongside Woods and totally dominated. Koepka understands that people come out or tune in to see the man who has won 15 major championships. He was like that himself.
Koepka recalled the first time he played with Woods, at the 2013 PGA Championship. “All I did was watch him for nine holes. That’s what I grew up doing,” he said. “I grew up watching him on TV and I spent the first nine holes…all I did was pay attention to every move he made. You know, whether he was picking up his tee, whatever it was.”
History will be watching Koepka this week as he is in position to smash records and win a fourth major crown. Woods, a big golf fan, probably will watch. As they walked off the 18th green, Woods told Koepka, “Keep it up. Great playing, and finish it off strong.”
Whether millions of people will be interested is another question. For the world of golf, this May is no match for April.