PGA Championship - Preview Day 2
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Major championships ask the toughest questions.

For Tiger Woods, though, it doesn’t matter anymore if it’s the PGA Championship, a regular PGA Tour event or a round with friends back home in Florida, the toughest question is always the same before he plays.

How is his body going to hold up?

Specifically, now, it’s how is his surgically repaired back going to hold up?

Of course, there’s a lot more riding on the answer to that question at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco this week.

There’s the chance to equal Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen as record five-time winners of the PGA Championship. There’s a chance to win his 16th major, moving just two behind Nicklaus’ mark. There’s the chance to win a record 83rd PGA Tour title, to surpass Sam Snead.

In Northern California’s cool climate, with damp, cold mornings, and sometimes afternoons that don’t warm up much, there will be even more than the usual scrutiny over how freely Woods is moving.

He has struggled with back stiffness in his last two PGA Tour starts. He labored with stiffness in the second round at the Memorial, shot 76 and barely made the cut in his only start in the last five-and-a-half months. He battled the same issues at the Genesis Invitational in February, finishing last among players who made the cut.

Though Woods seems fine in his work at TPC Harding Park this week, he knows the cool, damp air is an extra challenge.

“When it's cooler like this, it's just, make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly,” he said Tuesday. “I know I won't have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it's 95 every day. That's just the way it is.”

The weather’s going to affect shot making, for everyone.

“Talking to some of the guys yesterday, they were laughing at their TrackMan numbers already,” Woods said. “They don't have the swing speed or ball speed they did last week. It's just the way it is. It's going to be playing longer. It's heavy air whether the wind blows or not, but it's still going to be heavy.

“The ball doesn't fly very far here. I've known that from all the years and times I've had to qualify up in this area. It's always 20 degrees cooler here than it is down there in Palo Alto. We knew that coming in.”

The high temperature Wednesday is forecast to be 62 degrees, cooler in the morning, with 66 forecast as the high for Thursday’s first round.

“I think the weather forecast is supposed to be like this all week,” Woods said. “Marine layer, cool, windy, and we are all going to have to deal with it.”

At 44, Woods knows the clock is ticking on his body and the number of realistic opportunities that remain to win majors. Nobody older than Woods has won a major in three decades, since Hale Irwin won the U.S. Open at Medinah in 1990. Only six players older than Woods have won majors, period.

Julius Boros was 48 when he won the PGA Championship in 1968, Nicklaus 46 when he won the Masters in 1986, Old Tom Morris 46 when he won The Open in 1867 and Irwin 45 when he won at Medinah and Jerry Barber 45 when he won the PGA Championship in 1961. Lee Trevino was 44 years and 8 months old when he won the PGA Championship in ’84, a month older than Woods is today.

Snead, Nicklaus and Hagen are the historic marks Woods is chasing this week, but Ben Hogan might be the guy Woods really needs to measure up against.

Can Woods cut back his schedule to protect his body, preserve his energy and still maintain the skill and confidence it takes to perform at the highest level on major-championship stages the way Hogan so famously did?

Hogan mastered the art of "less is more" in a way that nobody in golf has ever done.

He did more with a patched-up body than any player ever has in his comeback from that head-on crash with a bus in 1949. He played in 18 PGA Tour events from 1950 through 1953 and won 10 of them. He played in nine majors in that span, winning six of them.

Hogan was 40 when he won his last three majors.

In 1953, Hogan played in five official PGA Tour events and won all five, three of them majors. He skipped the West Coast and Southern swings that year. When he showed up to start his year at the Masters, he hadn’t played an official event since the U.S. Open the previous June. Still, he won the Masters by five shots, shattering the championship’s scoring record at the time.

Woods, with the coronavirus pandemic part of the challenge, is doing that less is more thing this year, with a hard focus on the majors, with the U.S. Open moved to September and the Masters to November. The Open was canceled this year.

“I've been trying to prepare for the three,” Woods said. “You know, trying to figure out my schedule, and training programs, and playing prep, and the things I need to work on for each major venue. It's just in a different calendar order and different time of year.

“But this is a big run for us coming up here. I've been gearing up for this and looking forward to the challenges of not only this week, but obviously the playoffs, and a U.S. Open and then the Masters.”

Woods knows the toughest question about how he will fare awaits when he tests his back in the mornings.

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