Bethpage (US): Masters winner Tiger Woods, chasing a 16th major title, and defending champion Brooks Koepka lead a powerhouse field into Thursday’s opening round of the PGA Championship at rain-drenched Bethpage Black.
Woods, who ended an 11-year major title drought last month at Augusta National, and Koepka, who held off Woods to win last year’s PGA crown, join reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy in the feature group of the first two days.
“I’m just looking forward to playing with him,” Koepka said of Woods. “I don’t think we’ve really been paired together too much, especially over the last couple years. It’ll definitely be interesting.”
It’s the same layout where Woods won the 2002 US Open and shared sixth behind winner Lucas Glover at a rain-hit 2009 US Open, both times with the vocal support of New York crowds who made the Long Island trek.
“This week is going to be a lot of fun with the crowds, the excitement that we’ve had here,” Woods said. “The pairing I’m involved in, it’s going to be just a boatload of fun for all of us.”
Woods would match Sam Snead’s career US PGA Tour win record of 82 with a triumph and move within two of the all-time major win mark of 18 by Jack Nicklaus with a victory.
The 43-year-old American would become the 10th oldest major winner, two days older than Ted Ray when he won the 1920 US Open, and match record co-holders Nicklaus and Walter Hagen with a fifth Wanamaker Trophy.
He would also be halfway to a calendar year Grand Slam, the PGA shifting to May for the first time since 1949 in a revamped world golf calendar.
Woods won the first two majors of 2002 at the Masters and US Open at Bethpage, where two inches of rain has soaked the course. “In order to win this one, driving is going to be at the forefront with the rough as lush as it is,” Woods said. “Fairways are plenty wide because it’s wet. You’ve got to hit it not only straight but you’ve got to hit it far.”...