Before you even ask, the answer to your question is: No.
The question is a good one: Will Tiger Woods win this week’s PGA Championship and be halfway to golf’s Grand Slam? Or, in his case, the Tiger Slam?
And we repeat: No. And there are three main reasons why Woods, who is the favorite at 10-1 odds (better value than his recent 8-1 odds) won’t win major No. 16.
No. 1: It’s being held this week at Bethpage Black in New York. This famous (or infamous) course is a long, long, long layout. At almost 7,500 yards it’s a beast of a challenge all by itself and will be bogged down even more with recent rain.
No. 2: Add in the fact that at that length it’s a par-70 layout rather than a par-72. That equates to just two par 5s on the course and those are usually Tiger’s money makers.
No. 3 and this is the big one: If you add in Tiger’s numbers off the tee, you’ll see why this major tournament could be a struggle. On a course like Bethpage Black, length and accuracy are a must. Tiger has struggled in both of those areas this season. Looking at Tiger’s stats for the year definitely give one reason to temper the enthusiasm after his Masters victory.
His numbers will mean he’s going to need to be perfect each of the four days to have any shot. And he’s not. He’s 54th in driving distance at just under 300 yards. He’s 58th in driving accuracy with 64.6 fairways hit.
Granted, he did win a U.S. Open at Bethpage Black in 2002, but that was back when Tiger won everything in sight.
Why are those numbers that important? Well, look at the scorecard for Bethpage Black. A couple of easier par 4s open the round but then players get hit with a couple of monster holes — the par-3 3rd reaches 230 yards and the par-4 4th sneaks in at a knee-knocking 517 (actually longer than one of the par 5s).
And that’s just the beginning. Add in the par-4 10th (502 yards), the par-4 12th (501 yards) and the par-5 13th (a give-it-all-you’ve got… and then some ... 608 yards) and you’ve got five golf holes that will be one of the stronger tests for players all year.
Sure, the remaining holes are normal in length. But add in the fact the greens are likely to be just a little slower than putting on your kitchen floor and you’ve got quite the test.
Yet, here’s where it gets tricky and gives Tiger a sliver of hope. Despite those bad numbers off the tee, Tiger’s first on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation at 75.5 percent. But on a longer course like Bethpage Black, those shorter drives and any missed fairways could, and will, catch up to him if he falls behind the leaders in the early rounds and has to press.
At Bethpage Black, that’s asking a lot.
Bethpage Black is one of five courses at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, N.Y., including Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow. The fact you’ve never heard of the other four courses unless you’ve played there is no surprise. The Black course may be the only course with a warning label.
“WARNING: The Black Course Is An Extremely Difficult Course Which We Recommend For Highly Skilled Golfers.”
Yes, it’s true. But relax. At least a little. It is a playable course for us mortals. In fact, water comes into play on just one hole, the par-3 8th hole that reaches 210 yards.
That’s the good news. The bad news is there are trees, doglegs, double doglegs and more bunkers than you can count. As close as we could figure, there are more than 80 bunkers on the course although that number could be more because a great number of them look like Rorschach tests with their designs.
But we digress. You’re looking for the winner of the second major of 2019. We’ve narrowed it down to players who have a little more length than Tiger and enough accuracy and composure to shake off a bogey or two. In fact, we’re looking for players who have steady nerves along with a laid-back attitude.
So if not Tiger, then who?
Dustin Johnson (10-1), Brooks Koepka (10-1) and Rory McIlroy (12-1) definitely have the firepower and resiliency.
We’re going to sound like a broken record here with our pick, but we’re looking for Koepka to repeat as the winner of the PGA Championship. And why not? He’s been Mr. Major for the last two years with three wins and a runner-up a month ago to Tiger at the Masters.
The guy can flat play when he’s on any stage. Put him on one of the biggest stages around and he’s money. Plus, he’s coming off a stellar warm-up finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson where he could have picked up yet another victory, winding up fourth with four rounds in the 60s.
We do realize Tiger finished second to Koepka last year in the PGA Championship. But Koepka’s pre-major round at the AT&T brings him into this major in playing form, not practice form like those who skipped an event or two.
As for the other big names who always seem to be lurking near the lead when Sunday comes at a major, we also like the play of Johnson. It’s been almost three years since he won his only major, the 2016 U.S. Open. In that time frame, he’s won 10 times, but no majors. It might be his time again as he finished T2 in The Masters (along with Koepka).
Most of the top pros have four weeks circled on their calendars representing the four majors as they fill out their schedules each year. Tiger has already checked off a major this year. The second check mark is up for grabs this week and all the winner has to do is navigate 30,000 yards (7,500 yards per round) on one of the toughest tracks anywhere.
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