Golf

Tiger Woods must channel good Harding Park vibes at PGA Championship

Golf

Eighty-two times Tiger Woods has teed it up at a PGA Tour event and walked away a champion at the end of the week. Forty of those victories came at six courses. Woods has won eight times at Firestone, eight at Bay Hill, seven times at Torrey Pines, five at Muirfield Village, five at Augusta National and four at Doral.

No matter the shape of Woods' game, he has a chance to win any time he pegs it at one of those six courses.

While the 15-time major champion hasn't played many tournaments at TPC Harding Park, the site of this week's 2020 PGA Championship, Woods has fond memories of the course by Lake Merced. Memories that might be able to spur him to victory this week in San Francisco.

Woods beat John Daly at the 2005 WGC-American Express Championship, coming back from three strokes down with nine holes to play to force a playoff. He won on the second playoff hole when Daly pulled his three-foot par putt.

Four years later, Woods unleashed one of the signature moments of his career at the 2009 Presidents Cup. Woods, a few months removed from a shocking loss to Y.E. Yang at the 2009 PGA Championship, was a tour de force. He went 5-0-0 that weekend, memorably roping a 3 iron during a Saturday match alongside Steve Stricker against Mike Weir and Tim Clark. Woods twirled his club and swaggered toward the green on 18.

Stricker's putt was conceded, and the duo would move to 3-0-0 together on the week. Woods avenged his PGA Championship loss to Y.E. Yang that Sunday, dusting him by winning 6 & 5 to cap off a perfect week at Harding Park.

Woods will test the old rest vs. rust debate this week by the Bay. The 44-year-old has played just four competitive rounds since February, finishing in a tie for 40th at the Memorial Tournament after a second-round 76 due to a stiff back that caused Woods to leave a lot of shots out to the right.

The reigning Masters champion elected to skip the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last week, choosing instead to make sure his body was in the best condition possible for a run at major No. 16 this week.

"I feel good," Woods told reporters Tuesday. "Obviously I haven't played much competitively, but I've been playing a lot at home. So I've been getting plenty of reps that way.  Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I've been gearing up for. We've got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it.  This is going to be a fun test for all of us. The rough is up. Fairways are much more narrow than they were here in 2009."

While Woods was rusty at the Memorial, there were some signs of life in his game. He was tied for sixth in strokes gained: approach and tied for 18th in greens in regulation. He's still one of the best iron players in the game. It's his driving that will be key to contend this week at Harding Park. The rough is thick and can be extremely penal in parts.

The course could play similarly to last year's PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, a long and narrow course that lent itself to bombers who could find the short grass off the tee. Woods struggled to find the fairway, missing the cut after shooting 5-over-par in his first two rounds.

[RELATED: Brooks, Rory highlights golfers with best chance to win 2020 PGA]

Woods believes his game is in a better spot now than it was entering the last year's PGA Championship. The tough test at the Memorial was a step in the right direction.

"Well, I think that more than anything, it's just competitively, I haven't played that much, but I am  -- the results that I've seen at home, very enthusiastic about some of the changes I've made and so that's been positive," Woods said. "Keep building. Keep getting ready, and be ready to go come Thursday."

Woods will be paired with Rory McIlroy and new world No. 1 Justin Thomas in the first two rounds this week.

We haven't seen a lot of Woods this season, but his history at TPC Harding Park says it's a course that fits his eye, and that could lead to a memorable weekend by the Bay. Can those old Harding Park memories spur Woods to major No. 16?

 

"Of course," Woods said with a smile and a chuckle when asked if he could win this week before exiting the podium.