By Ken MacLeod
Should Tiger Woods return for the 2022 PGA Championship May 19-22 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, it will turn an already huge event into “the biggest sporting event in the history of the state.”
That was the assessment today of Southern Hills Director of Golf Cary Cozby and reiterated by Southern Hills General Manager Nick Sidorakis, who like the rest of the golf world were stunned and encouraged by the progress Woods showed in nearly winning the PNC Championship this weekend with son Charlie.
“Five more months and knowing that guy, why would you doubt him,” Cozby said. “After watching this weekend I would say it’s better than a 50 percent chance he’ll play. Somewhere around two/thirds chance.”
“I would be a little less optimistic but when you talk about Tiger, you’re talking about a different individual,” Sidorakis said. “I never thought he would get to this point so soon with the severity of his injuries. His swing speed is 172 and that’s basically the PGA Tour average. It’s absolutely amazing.”
And should Woods come to duel with 51-year-old defending champion Phil Mickelson and the incredible stable of young talents peaking in the game, what would that do to pump up the already high excitement level this May?
“Off the charts.” Cozby said. “I think it will be the biggest sporting event in the history of the state and second is not even close. Just an electric week and a chance for Tulsa to really show itself off to the world.”
“I think if it happens, Cary hit the nail on the head,” Sidorakis said. “It would be the biggest sporting event in the history of the state. If Tiger and Phil are dueling for one of the last times in the history of their major championship careers, it would be just off the charts.”
Yes, we don’t know yet if Woods can walk LaFortune Park let alone Southern Hills. But we know he can still hit the shots required to compete, at least at certain venues. And that’s a big question mark erased.
Why push his recovery to that seeming extreme? Because if Woods has even a hint of desire left to equal or surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships, he can’t pass up a venue like Southern Hills. There are too many courses where the physical limitations he had before the car crash have rendered him a non-factor.
That’s not the case at Southern Hills. Even though it will play longer in 2022 at nearly 7,500 yards than it did when he won the PGA Championship there in 2007 usually hitting driver on only three holes per round, he won’t be overwhelmed. He’ll be able to hit stingers and use his incredible short irons and short game to neutralize any deficit in distance. Play smart and let most of the others make too many mental errors as tends to happen in major championships.
“Southern Hills is his best chance to win a major this year,” said Sam Humphreys, co-host of the 73rd Hole Podcast. “Augusta National and St. Andrews are both pretty wide open and guys can take advantage of their length. Southern Hills is one of the target courses where he can outthink the field. He can still outthink the field better than anyone in the history of golf. And he’ll be able to hit it just far enough to compete.”
That’s our thought as well. The walk at Southern Hills is not easy with the hill to be navigated on 1, 4, 9, 10 and 18. But otherwise it’s not a difficult walk and certainly much easier than Augusta National.
And the strategy is a key issue. When Woods played the first two rounds of the 2019 PGA Championship at Bethpage Black with Brooks Koepka, it was apparent that his days of competing with the bombers on a huge, challenging venue like that are likely over. The challenge at Southern Hills is completely different. It’s position, ball flight control, three-putt avoidance, all the little things that keep you from suddenly making a string of bogeys despite never really being in a ton of trouble.
“People call it a second-shot course but if you don’t have a great short game you’re in real trouble,” Sidorakis said. “The fairways are more generous than they used to be (thanks to extensive tree removal). It definitely lends itself to his game.”
Tickets to the 2022 PGA Championship are already sold out on Friday through Sunday with only some practice round tickets and Thursday tickets available. Even If Woods commits, the PGA of America would not reconsider its current caps on daily attendance, except perhaps for the practice rounds.
2022 Championship Director Bryan Karns said today that the total limit of daily spectators, workers, competitors, caddies and officials is expected to be around 40,000 daily for the competitive rounds Thursday through Sunday and the PGA would not consider raising that.
“We have to consider the experience of those who have bought tickets already,” Karns said. He said if anyone who has not purchased tickets wants to take the chance on seeing Tiger, they should immediately get some of the few remaining tickets for Thursday or one of the practice rounds. Go here for current ticket information.
The Championship has already been one of the most successful in the history of the PGA Championship in terms of corporate sales and that inventory is sold out as well.