TULSA, Okla. – The journey from the Masters to the PGA Championship was never going to be a simple one for Tiger Woods, who arrived at Southern Hills Country Club on Sunday afternoon to begin preparations for this week’s tournament.
His severely injured right leg was going to need some time to recover after a strenuous week at Augusta National, where Woods played all 72 holes but struggled toward the end of his weekend round.
“I’ve gotten a lot stronger since the Masters,’’ Woods said in a brief interview with six reporters who spoke with him during a nine-hole practice round. “We went back to work on Tuesday; Monday was awful.
“I did nothing and Tuesday was leg day (in the gym). So we went right back after it. Everything is better.’’
Woods looked smooth and relaxed as he played the front nine at Southern Hills, where he won the 2007 PGA Championship for his 13th major title. His caddie, Joe LaCava, was with him as was friend Rob McNamara.
LaCava was getting his first look at the course after arriving with Woods Sunday morning. He said he went to Florida to work with Woods for three days at his home course last week.
“Hundred percent I see him stronger,’’ LaCava said. “I just think the endurance is there now. I don’t think he’s getting quite as tired as quickly. I see more endurance more than anything.’’
Woods made a surprising return at the Masters, where he played his first official event since the car crash in February 2021 that saw him suffer severe injuries to his lower right leg, ankle and foot.
Hospitalized for several weeks and unable to walk unaided for months, Woods played an exhibition with his son, Charlie, in December while using a golf cart and noticeably limping. His own comments suggested the Masters would be too soon to return.
But Woods not only played at Augusta National, he made the cut, beating the likes of Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau. The fact that his weekend scores of 78-78 – his highest ever at the Masters – hardly took away from what was viewed as a successful return.
“It’s the hardest walk out there,’’ LaCava said. “No excuses. That’s just a fact. This (Southern Hills) is no piece of cake either, but I’ll be a little less taxing in the walk.’’
Woods started on the first hole and played by himself. He eventually caught up to 2019 U.S. Open champion Gary Woodland, who played the remaining holes of the front nine and talked about how good it was to see Woods back.
“He’s amazing,’’ Woodland said. “Hitting it both ways. Short game is terrific. Just good to see him playing as it had been awhile since I’ve seen him play.’’
After the Masters, Woods said he would be playing the British Open at St Andrews in July but did not commit to playing this week. He wanted to see how his leg responded, and if he would be able to work his way back to giving another major championship a try.
But he came to Southern Hills for an 18-hole practice round on April 28, and it seemed from that point that – unless there was a setback – he’d be playing.
“We started ramping up a week or so ago, played a little bit more golf, and it was good,’’ Woods said. “It’s only going to keep getting stronger. The more I use it , the more strength it gains. Am I ever going to have full mobility, no. Never again. But I’ll be able to get stronger.
“I’m excited about (this week). I’m not going to play that much going forward so any time I do play, it’s going to be fun to play and to compete. There are only so many money games you can play at home.’’
LaCava said he expected practice to be light this week, with no more than nine holes per day, depending on weather. “It’s still a work in progress,’’ he said.