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Tiger Woods returns to Bethpage Black for PGA Championship as the favorite

Tiger Woods looks on from the course during

Tiger Woods looks on from the course during the first day of practice rounds in the PGA Championship tournament at Bethpage Black golf course on Monday, May 13, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It rained here, too, in 2002.

Tiger Woods was 26 when he won that U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, winning the first two legs of the Grand Slam and battling weeklong downpours on his way to claiming his corner of history. And though it’s not scheduled to rain this weekend, Monday morning’s practice round had to bring back some heady memories.

There was Woods, around 8 a.m. at the first hole at Bethpage Black, clothed in a beanie and a sweater, batting rough conditions again: Rain, light but steady, wind, and cold May temperatures in the 40s. The circumstances now are wildly different than they were 17 years ago, but thanks to Woods’ epic resurgence, some major points stay the same: Tiger Woods is trying to win his second straight major, and he’s a favorite.

This time, it’s the PGA Championship, and Woods on Thursday is slated to tee off at 8:24 a.m., alongside recent major winners Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari. Monday, he golfed with Billy Horschel and Brandt Snedeker, though the group got separated at later holes. Woods played nine holes, attracting a moderately large crowd. It was by far the biggest of any golfer’s that morning, given the inclement conditions.

Clad in rain gear and warm sweaters, the hundred or so spectators at the ninth hole remained relatively demure, with an occasional shout of “Go get 'em, Tiger” or “Go Tiger!” After wrapping up, Woods declined to sign autographs, and was rushed to a vehicle with tinted windows idling alongside the green.

It’s believed that Woods descended on Long Island some time around May 2, when his yacht, “Privacy” was docked in Oyster Bay. Woods used the same yacht to get to the U.S. Open in Shinnecock last year.
Unlike that tournament, though, Woods is the clear frontrunner this weekend, with SportsLine putting him at an 8-1 chance to win, ahead of Dustin Johnson and Koepka (both 10-1) in the pool of 150 golfers.

Regardless of whether he wins or loses, Woods’ victory at Augusta last April has cemented his legacy as one of the greatest comeback stories in sports history. It was his 15th major title, but his first in 11 years after personal issues and back problems that culminated in spinal fusion surgery in 2017. What once seemed like a near impossibility—catching up to Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major titles — now looks firmly in reach. And, thanks to the PGA Championship moving from August to May this year, all eyes are on Long Island this weekend.

After winning at Augusta, though, Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, indicated that Nicklaus’ record was too far off to think about, still.

“It’s nice to get 15, but 18 isn’t a thought,” LaCava told Golf Digest then. “Now [that] 15 is here, let’s get to 16. Is [the record] in play? Sure. The guy’s 43 years old. A guy like him could win when they’re 50. Sixteen is the next mission.”

That journey begins Thursday, right here at Bethpage Black.

New York Sports