FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — Now he knows what it was like. Now Tiger Woods understands how the others felt when he was the man, dominating golf. Woods still can play. As we found out last month in the Masters, which he won. But it’s not like before.
Not like the time a younger Woods would run away in a tournament, crush the competition, win by so much, as in the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach or the 2000 British Open at St. Andrews, it seemed he was playing a different course than everyone else.
In the opening round of the PGA Championship on Thursday, Woods was nine shots behind, virtually out of the tournament after one day.
Eighteen holes, and he was nine back of Brooks Koepka, who may not be the new Tiger Woods — because there never will be a new Tiger Woods — but certainly has us as much in awe during certain rounds as Tiger once did.
Koepka, the defending champion, the two-time U.S. Open champion, shot a 63, 7 under par, a course record for Bethpage Black on Long Island. some 30 miles east of Manhattan. Maybe he won’t win again, but you like his chances.
As opposed to Tiger’s chances, after his erratic 2-over 72.
Woods has played well at Bethpage. He won the U.S. Open here in 2002. So long ago that Koepka was only 12 years old then, hoping to be a ball player.
Now he’s 29, and Woods is 43. And the thought that Tiger might win consecutive majors, after that stirring win at Augusta in April, has gone with the wind off the Atlantic.
Tiger isn’t going to concede with three rounds to play, assuming he makes the cut after the second round. But Woods, who when trailing normally would tell us something like, “If I shoot in 60s ... ” was less optimistic.
“I have a long away to go,” Woods told a TV reporter immediately after the round.
He meant in attempting to catch Koepka. Yet that phrase also could be interpreted to mean that Woods will be competing for many years, although as this first round of the PGA is a reminder that the road gets tougher.
You’re growing older, and the opponents keep getting younger and breaking records.
Woods' Thursday round was a bit too familiar of late, other than the Masters. Beginning on the 10th hole at Bethpage, Woods hit a good drive and made a double-bogey 6. Then he double-bogied the par-3 7th.
Birdies at one and two and an eagle 3 at the fourth brought him to 1-under and onto the leader board, if far back of Koepka, with whom he and Francesco Molinari were grouped. But he bogied five, seven and eight to finish at 2-over.
“It wasn't as clean as I'd like to have it, for sure,” said Woods about his game. “Didn't get off to a very good start. It was a good drive and ended up in a bad spot, and I compounded the problem with trying to use the backboard behind the hole there (the upslope back of the green) and missing a putt I should have made.
“And then found my way back around. Got it back under par for the day, and let a couple slip away with a couple bad putts and a couple mistakes at the end.”
In the good days, and the final round of the 2019 Masters must be included, others made the mistakes while Woods made the putts. The good days seem to be fewer and fewer. Thursday, obviously, was not one.
Woods said he wasn’t feeling well Wednesday, so instead of playing a practice round he stayed at the home he and his entourage are renting.
Then Thursday, starting before 9 a.m., with the sun shining and the temperature in the upper 60s, Woods began with a double, which would make anyone feel lousy.
Someone pointed out to Woods that he was making birdies out of the rough and bogies from the fairway, which didn’t make much sense — not that anything in golf makes sense.
“Well, the golf course is playing tough,” Woods explained. “I felt like it's not that hard to make bogeys out here, but it's hard to make birdies.”
It wasn’t for Brooks Koepka. It didn’t used to be for Tiger Woods.