By John Rohde
When Tiger Woods won the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills Country Club, he was 31 years old and walked with no limp. It was his 13th professional major title and he was full steam ahead in his quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record total of 18.
Woods’ smile often doubled as a smirk. Tiger ruled the PGA jungle. Nicklaus himself wasn’t going to concede his record to Woods, but if things continued as they were in those days, more than a few folks predicted Woods might claw his way to the quarter-century mark of 25 majors.
Fifteen years have passed since then and a 46-year-old Woods has managed to add just two more major titles. He now walks with the limp of a war vet. Woods winces, yet somehow manages to smile through the pain.
Though winning another major championship is iffy at best, Woods is now earning more respect than he has his entire career simply by the fact he’s in the field.
Tuesday’s interview session at the 104th PGA Championship seemed unlike any Woods has given before. Despite the suffering he’s endured the past 15 months – heck, the past 15 years — Woods was downright pleasant. His responses were both blunt and light-hearted.
A single-car wreck in Los Angeles County on Feb. 23, 2021, resulted in Woods nearly having his right-leg amputated. After an unfathomable recovery, Woods played his first competitive round at last month’s Masters, where he made the cut and finished in 47th place after a pair of 78s on the weekend.
The more holes Woods played at Augusta National, the more pronounced his limp became. That same painful gait figures to return this week.
Asked for an update on his health, Woods replied, “It’s better than the last time I played a tournament, which is good. We’ve (his medical crew) been working hard and again. I have days where it’s tough and you know, other days where we can push through it. But we keep working at it.”
Between the Masters and this week’s PGA, was he able to keep ramping up the training or was there a post-Masters lull?
“Yeah, there was a huge lull … Monday (the day after the Masters). That was it. Monday,” Woods said with a wry grin. “It was not fun. It hurt. Ice baths and just trying to get the swelling out of there. Then we went back at it, leg day on Tuesday and we kept going from there. Said, ‘Let’s go.’ Figured the first mountain you climbed was Everest. That’s the steepest golf course you’re going to play and that was the first one you climbed it.”
Though it pales in comparison to the incessantly undulating terrain of Augusta National, Southern Hills isn’t exactly flat, most notably walking back up to the clubhouse on hole Nos. 9 and 18. “It’s going to get flatter and better,” Woods said of playing venues other than the Masters. “I still have tough days, and things aren’t going to be as easy as people might think.”
The 2007 PGA Championship featured oppressive triple-digit temperatures in mid-August. “It was not cold that week,” said Woods, who won with an 8-under-par total. “I remember playing behind JD (John Daly) the first day, which was awesome. It was, what, 109 (degrees) I think that first day? And I asked JD how many waters he drank out there, he said, ‘No, I had 13 Diet Cokes.’ It was a great week.”
This week’s PGA Championship will be staged on a course where an $11-million restoration was completed three years ago. The updated version of Southern Hills is longer, faster, wider and meaner.
“A very different golf course (back in 2007),” Woods said. “A lot of irons, like strange irons. You don’t normally hit a 6-iron off the tee on a par 4, and we did that week. They have lengthened it, changed it, and it will be a good test. I’m curious to see how much firmer it gets as the week goes on.”
This week’s forecast originally projected nothing but high temperatures in the 90s. Much like the golf course, however, the updated forecast has since undergone a restoration of its own.
As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the new forecast projects a high of 91 during Thursday’s opening round. A freaky Friday is now predicted to have a high of 89 with a 25-percent chance of rain, capped by a night that brings an 80-percent chance of precipitation and a temperature of 61. Saturday will offer a high of just 63 degrees and a 25-percent chance of rain. Sunday’s final round has a projected high of 72 with a 16-percent chance of precipitation.
Variety awaits at Southern Hills.
The 2007 PGA maxed out as a 7,131-yard par-70. This week’s max is 7,556 yards.
Asked which Southern Hills course he would rather play – the 2007 track or the 2022 version – Woods (again) smiled and joked, “Now? Given my body? Anything around 6,200 (yards) is great. It’s just different. It’s more faster, wide open. We saw how the seniors played it (in the 2021 Senior PGA Championship last May). A lot of balls were hitting and runs off to the sides, where that wasn’t the case when we played in ’07.”
Asked what he learned about his new body after enduring the Masters, Woods chuckled and said, “It was hurting, but I pushed through it. It was more mind than body. I said, ‘I’ve won with a broken leg before (2008 U.S.Open). Keep on going out there, keep pushing. I know how to play the golf course. If I can just putt well, you never know.’ Unfortunately Saturday, I think I had like 15 three-putts. But it was one of those things. The thing that I was frustrated with is it deteriorated as the week went on. I got more and more tired and more fatigued. I didn’t have the endurance that I wanted. I mean, I shouldn’t expect it because I didn’t earn it. I didn’t go out there and I hadn’t done the work, but we were able to put in a little bit more work and it’s going to get better as time goes on. As the months pass and it’s going to get better.”
Will getting better be good enough for Woods to win this week? Doubtful. But the more the limp dissipates, the better his chances become.