After 13 months away, major championship golf returned this week with the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park, kicking off an unprecedented run that is expected to see seven major titles contested over the next calendar year.
Tiger Woods was not a factor on the weekend on Lake Merced.
The 44-year-old opened the tournament with a 2-under-par 68 but stumbled back Friday and Saturday and began Sunday 11 shots back of leader Dustin Johnson. But Woods, who only had played four competitive rounds since February coming into the week, still viewed Sunday as an important day on the course with the 2020 U.S. Open set for September and the Masters now taking place in November.
"Last day and we still have another major championship to play and get ready for the Playoffs and we have the U.S. Open after that," Woods said Saturday after shooting a third-round 2-over-par 72. "We have some big events to be played, and hopefully tomorrow I can shoot something in the red and get it to under par for the tournament, and hopefully, I can do that."
Woods, naturally, did just that on Sunday. With crisper iron play and a steadier putter, Woods opened his final round with birdies on Nos. 4, 5 and 7, making the turn at 2-under for the day. The 15-time major champion added birdies at 14 and 17 before finishing his day with a closing bogey to shoot a 3-under-par 67 and finish the year's first major at 1-under-par.
Woods struggled to get all parts of his game clicking at once this week. He rode a hot putter to an opening-round 2-under-par 68, but he stumbled back Friday and Saturday after not being able to find any early-round momentum. While not a factor in the championship, Woods was pleased with his overall play and viewed Sunday's round as affirmation that he played better than he scored.
"I think what I got out of this week is that I felt I was competitive," Woods said Sunday. "If I would have made a few more putts on Friday early on, and the same thing with Saturday, I felt like I would have been right there with a chance come today. It didn't happen, but I fought hard, and today was more indicative of how I could have played on Friday and Saturday if I would have made a few putts early."
At 44 years old, Woods is focused on peaking for majors with passing Jack Nicklaus' record 18 major victories still serving as the ultimate goal. After an extended period off, Woods is hoping his play Sunday is something he can build off as he marches toward the 2020 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, although he admits it's impossible to gauge how crisp he can be during an unprecedented major schedule.
"That's an unknown just because of the fact that we've never had a schedule like this before," Woods said. "No one has ever experienced this, having a shutdown during the year. No one has played competitively trying to figure out how we're going to deal with the restrictions, the policies that are on board, the adjustments that we've made as the TOUR has comeback. It is very different. This is unlike any other year that we've ever experienced in golf.
"A lot of unknowns, and it's very different. I know that we have a couple weeks off, and as I said, a lot of the guys are looking forward to those couple weeks to get ready for Winged Foot."
With that, Woods left the Bay Area knowing he might have missed an opportunity to contend for a 16th major championship. His game wasn't as sharp as it needed to be to survive the fair but firm test that TPC Harding Park presented.
But everything started to click Sunday. He found more fairways with his driver and the iron play looked more like the Tiger of old. The hope is he can bottle and build on Sunday as the grueling major season heads to Winged Foot next month.