Tiger Woods will play the first two rounds of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in two weeks alongside Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari, two of the golfers he defeated to win the Masters. They will compose a reigning champions threesome, a tradition that will accompany the event’s move from August to May.
“We did talk about that and we are continuing our process of having the last three major champions paired together,” Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s chief championships officer, said on a conference call Tuesday morning. He also said that tournament officials are “very excited” about the condition of the Black Course and that the layout will be pretty much like the one seen there for the 2009 U.S. Open.
For years, the PGA Championship was the last of the majors to be held. So, the season’s three previous major winners were placed in the same group for the first two rounds. With the move to May this year, there is only one reigning major champion in 2019 — Woods, who earned his fifth green jacket, having overtaken Molinari and held off Koepka, among others.
Haigh said the decision was made to include the winners of the final two majors of 2018. Molinari won the British Open and Koepka won the PGA, each of them defeating Woods down the stretch. Haigh added that former PGA champions will be grouped together in the opening rounds May 16 and 17.
Seth Waugh, the new CEO of the PGA of America, said on the conference call that Woods’ recent win at Augusta had a “moon landing” type of impact in that it invites people to remember where they were when they saw it.
Bethpage superintendent Andrew Wilson and Black Course superintendent Mike Hadley “are feeling very positive about the overall conditioning” of the course, Haigh said. He did indicate, though, that organizers are hoping for a few warmer days to help the grass and foliage reach their peak.
Fairway widths will be the same as they were for the most recent Open on the Black, Haigh said, with the exception of No. 18. That has been refigured from an hourglass shape to “more of a reasonable-width fairway throughout the length,” he said, offering golfers options on their tee shots.
The rough is expected to be at three-and-a-half to four inches, he said, adding, “Based on what we saw the last two spring times, it should be pretty healthy and growing fairly quickly.”