What else do you want out of a major championship that this week’s PGA Championship doesn’t have?
The dream storylines are aligned perfectly:
– Tiger Woods is coming off his 15th career major championship, his first in 11 years and his first Masters win in 14 years.
– Big, brawny Bethpage Black is the venue, the People’s Country Club that will be teeming with full-throated New York-area golf fans unafraid to express their support (or lack thereof) to the players.
— Jordan Spieth, already a winner of a Masters, U.S. Open and British Open, is trying to become only the sixth player in the history of the game to secure a career Grand Slam by capturing all four major championships.
– Two of the game’s biggest hitters — Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 ranked player in the world, and Brooks Koepka, winner of three majors in the past two seasons — will match their strengths against the girth of the mighty Black Course.
— Rory McIlroy comes here in great form but having gone 15 major championships without hoisting any hardware.
— Phil Mickelson, New York’s favorite son from California, is back at Bethpage, where he’s finished runner-up at the two U.S. Opens played there (2002 and 2009).
— The rainy, raw, chilly weather seems to have finally disappeared, possibly making way for nice weather for the four tournaments days.
— Did we mention Tiger Woods playing in his first tournament since that historic Masters victory last month?
The question with the 43-year-old Woods is whether his game will be rusty after not having played competitively since April 14.
It’s just the seventh time in his career Woods is playing a major championship without playing in a regular event preceding it. Four of those times, he didn’t play because of injury or illness. He last skipped tournaments between major championships in 2013, when he had an elbow injury following the U.S. Open, then he tied for sixth at the British Open. Only twice did he intentionally not play between majors.
Woods opted to skip the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago and rest instead.
“I wanted to play at Quail Hollow, but to be honest with you, I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again,’’ Woods said. “Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready. That’s going to be the interesting part going forward: How much do I play and how much do I rest?
“I think I’ve done a lot of the legwork and the hard work already, trying to find my game over the past year and a half. Now I think it’s just maintaining it. I know that I feel better when I’m fresh. The body doesn’t respond like it used to, doesn’t bounce back quite as well, so I have to be aware of that.’’
Woods even opted to stay away from Bethpage on Wednesday, when he was expected to play nine more holes. That means he was at the course only two days this week in advance of Thursday’s opening round — playing the front nine Monday morning and practicing Tuesday.
Woods was at Bethpage last Wednesday, spending more than five hours on the course on a scouting trip with his caddie, Joe LaCava.
It’s not as if Woods doesn’t know the golf course. He won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage and tied for sixth when the U.S. Open returned in 2009. He also played the 2012 Barclays at Bethpage, where he tied for 38th.
When he played his nine-hole practice round Monday, Woods shook his head at the length and difficulty of some of the holes.
“This is not only a big golf course, but this is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play,’’ he said. “This could be a hell of a championship.’’
It’s got all the ingredients. Bring it on.