Tiger Woods, coming off a Masters victory that snapped an 11-year major win drought, prepared to launch an early bid for his 16th major title as the 101st PGA Championship began Thursday. The 43-year-old American superstar’s electrifying triumph last month at Augusta National has made him the focus of attention at formidable Bethpage Black, the same course where Woods won the 2002 US Open. “I feel great. I’m excited to get out there,” Woods said. “This is going to be a long week the way the golf course is set up and potentially could play. This could be a hell of a championship.” A victory would match Woods with Sam Snead for the all-time US PGA win record at 82 and move him two shy of the all-time major win record of 18 set by Jack Nicklaus — as well as put Woods halfway to a calendar Grand Slam for the first time since 2002.
American Rob Labritz hit the opening shot off the first tee in cool and sunny conditions at the first PGA Championship played in May since 1949, the event moving from August this year in a revamp of the global golf schedule. Sixth-ranked Woods starts off the 10th tee at 8:24 a.m. (1224 GMT) alongside defending champion and two-time US Open winner Brooks Koepka and reigning British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy. “I’m just looking forward to playing with him. It’ll be interesting,” Koepka said of Woods. “We really haven’t been paired together too much, especially over the last couple years.” Koepka held off Woods to win last year’s PGA at Bellerive before Woods turned the tables at the Masters. “It was great to see him win,” Koepka said. “I was a little bit disappointed. I felt like I let it slip a little bit. But at the same time, that’s what our sport needed. We needed him to win a major.” Molinari denied Woods last year to win the Claret Jug at Carnoustie. “When I started I wasn’t even dreaming of playing against Tiger,” Molinari said. “I feel lucky enough to have played with him many times now in many important moments.” Photo Credit: Getty