Questions that beg for answers swirl in the days leading to the 94th PGA Championship that opens Thursday at the Ocean Course. Perhaps the most intriguing centers on Tiger Woods.
You remember him. You remember the wunderkind who dominated golf like few before prior to health issues and self-inflicted personal wounds derailed his quest to claim one of the game’s holy grails — Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship.
Now, with three PGA tour tournament victories this year and his revised swing progressing nicely, his results more closely resemble the pre-2008 Tiger, the Tiger who won the U.S. Open at a time he should have been undergoing knee surgery.
Is he ready to rejoin the Nicklaus chase and earn his 15th major this week?
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He did not predict the outcome Tuesday in his pre-tournament meeting with the media, but he exhibited the confidence of the old Tiger, not the false bravado that often characterized his comments in recent years.
“The last couple of years, my game was not where it’s at right now,” he said. “This year, I’ve won three tournaments, and it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve been in there with a chance to win a few more. It’s totally different; physically my game is way different than what it was last year.
“It’s nice to be able to practice after each round, to have that option. That wasn’t the case last year. My game has improved because of it, and here we are.”
Here we are with Woods climbing toward reclaiming the top spot in the world rankings, but here we are, too, with a posse of younger players nipping at his heels — and he acknowledges the trend.
“Golf is getting deep; there’s so many guys with a chance to win,” he said. “The margin is getting smaller. There may have been 16 different winners (in the past 16 majors), but you look at the cuts. The cuts are getting lower.”
The revamped Woods of 2012 has been in contention in both the U.S. and British Opens and fell back over the weekend. His play left him both encouraged and discouraged.
“I’m pleased at the way I was able to play at certain parts and at certain times, and I’m obviously disappointed I did not win,” he said. “I have played in three major championships this year, and I didn’t win any of them, and that’s the goal.”
Eclipsing Nicklaus’ 18 major titles remains foremost on his list of goals.
“(Breaking the record) is going to take a career; it’s going to take a long time,” Wood said. “Jack didn’t (win his last major) until he was 46, so if you go by that timetable, I’ve got 10 more years.
“Four more majors is a lot, (but) I’ve got plenty of time. With the training regiments that we have now and seeing guys play well, you can get on the right golf course and contend (at any age). You saw what happened with Tom (Watson) being 59 (and losing the British Open in a playoff).”
He relishes the challenge ... playing the way he is now.
“For me in major championships, I loved it. I just loved being (in contention),” he said.
“There’s pressure, sure, absolutely, and that’s the fun of it. It’s fun feeling those nerves, it’s fun feeling that adrenaline.”
Will he be there Sunday?
“There’s more players with a chance now,” Woods said, “The fields are so much more deep than they used to be, and it’s going to keep being that way.”
And they are even deeper with the resurgent Woods marching back toward the top.