Long Island is giddy with excitement at the thought of another Tiger major but don’t hold your breath for a… Fairytale of New York
- Fans are travelling for miles to see if Tiger Woods can win back-to-back majors
- Imagine how loud it will be if he is in contention heading into the final rounds
- Woods will begin with Brooks Koepka and Claret Jug holder Francesco Molinari
- When you apply logic, it seems more likely that Koepka will triumph in New York
One month on from a day in golf that was simply like no other, Tiger Woods has returned, and the sporting world waits to see if the miracle man can continue the fairytale in New York.
The genteel setting of Augusta National and the mystique of the Masters have been swapped for the once-overlooked US PGA Championship and the unvarnished beauty of Bethpage Black.
From the most exclusive club in America we’ve moved on to perhaps the nation’s best municipal course and a public venue that revels in its unofficial title of the ‘People’s Country Club’.
Tiger Woods has been practising at Bethpage Black Course ahead of the first round
There will be enormous support for the golfing legend following his Masters win in April
Yes, they really do sleep in their cars overnight for the chance to play their beloved Black course, but this week they’re riding the Long Island Rail Road from Manhattan and all points west in the hope of witnessing Tiger repeat his victory here in the 2002 US Open.
Given the privations so many usually put up with to secure a tee-time here, expect the vast majority of the 60,000 spectators to be in place when Woods tees off at 8.24am (1.24pm BST) in the first round on Thursday.
Imagine the scenes if Tiger is in contention on Friday afternoon, once a few beers have been consumed, and over the weekend?
It was loud enough in this event in St Louis last year, when he pushed Brooks Koepka all the way. It was louder still when he claimed the Masters.
But this has the potential to make the noise heard at a Ryder Cup feel almost cathedral-like by comparison.
Things will probably change once the action gets under way but right now everything is seen through a Woods prism. Superstars in their own right come into the interview room and find themselves answering questions about Tiger.
Chat shows debate if he can win another major, can he catch Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 majors, will his back hold up for a few years? Who can win the US PGA has become almost incidental, unless it’s whether Tiger can win.
Appropriately, Woods will begin with the defending champion Koepka and Claret Jug holder Francesco Molinari for company in the first two rounds.
Over the last three majors, it’s almost like this starry trio have been conducting their own private battle for supremacy and it’s only right they emerged from the trinity with an equal share.
At the Open at Carnoustie last July, it was the tough Italian who came out on top as Woods rekindled the memory of what it’s like to be in contention at a major, eventually finishing tied sixth.
Woods has plenty of hype behind him but in reality the course will be extremely tough
A month later, Woods shot his lowest 72-hole total in a major, only to find Koepka unmoved. But at Augusta he was not to be denied, as Molinari fell apart over the final seven holes and Koepka failed narrowly to keep pace.
Now it’s Bethpage, where there will positively be no repeat of the 16-under-par score Koepka delivered at Bellerive last August. Anyone in the field would bite your hand off for eight-under, never mind double that.
So, what are the chances of another miracle rising in the shadow of this city that fills so many with wonder?
Well, as Sir Nick Faldo has tried to point out, it really is at this point that we ought to inject a reality check.
Never mind that Woods won here in 2002, for that feels like several lifetimes ago, given all that he has gone through in the interim.
Forget, for a moment, that he won the Masters, and the febrile army who will be cheering him on, for they are factors that will only be helpful if he somehow manages to get into contention over the weekend. Let’s worry instead about the first two rounds.
The 43-year-old’s Masters triumph means plenty of people are talking about golf again
How does a man who hasn’t played for a month in competition, and known for the odd stray drive, cope with a course where the rough is so juicy it’s almost an automatic dropped shot for anyone who is wild?
How does he deal with the expectation that follows a major victory, and particularly his win at the Masters?
If he shows some understandable signs of rust and nerves over the opening holes, how does he play catch-up on this formidable par-70 layout where there’s simply no let-up, and no gimme birdies?
What happens on Thursday, therefore, playing early in cool temperatures with the chance of showers, holds the key for Tiger, and Faldo is convinced he will struggle. ‘Bethpage will beat him, no question,’ was his blunt assessment on Wednesday.
Apply logic, therefore, and we’re looking elsewhere for the winner of the Wanamaker Trophy, starting with the man standing next to Tiger for the first two rounds.
Over the past four years, Koepka has compiled an impressive record in the majors. He has won three of the last seven he’s played in and only once during that time finished outside the top 25.
There are plenty of his peers who could learn much from his simple philosophy and why he believes it’s easier for him to win majors than regular tournaments.
‘There are 156 players, so you figure at least half of them I’m just going to beat,’ he says.
Brooks Koepka will play alongside Woods and Francesco Molinari in the first two rounds
‘You figure about half of the rest won’t play well, so now you’re down to maybe 35. And then from 35, some will just succumb to the pressure, which leaves you with a few more. Then you’ve just got to beat those guys.’
Of course, it helps if you’ve got all Koepka’s natural gifts and the swagger that winning three in short order brings.
You get the sense he is the sort who will relish partnering Woods over the first two rounds. Woods just laughed when someone asked if he thought Koepka was like a young Tiger.
‘Have you seen the size of him?’ he said. ‘He could have been a baseball player if he wasn’t a golfer, he’s that strong, and he had that choice. I was all muscle and whip.’
Bethpage is tailor-made for bombers such as Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, but with the important proviso you simply have to keep the ball on the fairway. Don’t rule out Molinari the fairway machine, therefore, or a short, straight hitter surprising everyone by wedging and putting his way to success.
As for Woods, it might be far from ideal but, following the splendour of the Masters and a run of 6-2-1 in the last three majors, you never know with the miracle man.
The People’s Country Club awaits.
The metropolis that has hosted more than its share of sporting epics is holding its breath and marvelling at the thought of witnessing one more.