Monday's golf: Cold reality greets players at PGA Championship

Doug Ferguson
Associated Press
Rory McIlroy, left, was among players to don a knit beanie for Monday’s practice in Farmingdale, N.Y.

Farmingdale, N.Y. — Matt Kuchar is playing his 54th major championship, and realized something new as he walked off the 18th green at Bethpage Black.

“I think this is the first time I’ve worn a beanie at the PGA Championship,” he said Monday.

He wasn’t alone.

Tiger Woods was layered in clothing for an early nine holes of practice to beat the rain, with a knit beanie over his cap. From a distance, it was hard to distinguish between tour pros and club pros, major champions and major rookies. All of them were bundled in dark rain gear.

The PGA Championship has moved to May for the first time since 1949, and for the moment, everyone is feeling it.

Temperatures were still in the upper 40s when players headed out for the first official day of practice on the Long Island public course, already soaked from weekend rain with more falling in the afternoon.

Just like Lucas Glover remembers it.

Glover won the last major at Bethpage Black, the 2009 U.S. Open, during a week so inundated with rain that it didn’t finish until Monday afternoon and the maintenance crew kept finding shoes in the muck weeks after it was over.

“Weather was just like this, actually,” Glover said.

It should get better by the time the championship begins on Thursday, with temperatures pushing 70 by the weekend. But a wet course is a long course, and there were plenty of examples of that during morning practice.

Woods played the front nine and had 256 yards into the 524-yard seventh hole, which plays as a par 4 this week. He hammered a 5-wood that came up short. He tried a 3-wood from the same spot and that also failed to reach the green, and at that point Woods jokingly suggested he might consider teeing it up for a driver.

Kuchar hit driver down the middle of the 15th fairway, contemplated his approach to an elevated green guarded by bunkers, and was surprised to see it come up short. It didn’t get much better from there. He hit a 3-hybrid into the par-4 16th, and another 3-hybrid into the par-3 17th.

“The ball isn’t bouncing, obviously,” Glover said. “Long and hard, that’s what I remember. It’s kind of fun when it is that soft because the ball just kind of goes where you hit it. You get extra rewarded for a good shot, and a bad shot is still bad. So it’s still fair. … With it soft like this — probably going to be soft the first few days — there will be a lot of long clubs in, so it will be to your advantage if you’re striking your irons well, especially your long irons.”

Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage, which featured a steady rain in the second round and an hour delay for rain in the final round. Glover won the next U.S. Open at Bethpage in 2009, and the PGA Tour staged its opening FedEx Cup playoff event on the Black Course twice. Nick Watney won in 2012, and Patrick Reed won in 2016.

Woods and Glover are among 14 players who will compete in all three majors, and the only major champions at Bethpage Black.

“That might be the only thing that anybody will ever use his and my name in the same breath,” Glover said with a laugh. “But any time you’re lumped in with him, it’s a pretty good honor. Pretty cool for sure.”

Both have gone through some down times, Woods mainly from injury, Glover from the frustrating nature of golf.

Thomas bows out

Justin Thomas withdrew from the PGA Championship on Monday, saying he was unwilling to risk more pain in his right wrist by returning before it’s healed.

Thomas, who won the PGA Championship two years ago at Quail Hollow, will miss a major for the first time since his rookie season in 2015.

He is dealing with a bone bruise suffered in the Honda Classic when he intentionally struck a tree on his follow-through. He felt he aggravated it during the final round of the Masters, though he said it wasn’t on any particular shot.

“I’ve seen too many people come back too early,” Thomas said from his home in Jupiter, Florida. “I plan on doing this successfully for a long time, and I don’t want a dumb decision to set me back.”

He said he could have played at Bethpage Black, but without guaranteeing there wouldn’t be a setback. Thomas, the No. 5 player in the world, was replaced by Kelly Kraft.

Thomas tied for 12th at the Masters, where he made a hole-in-one on the 16th hole in the final round. He had not hit balls since then.

Stricker takes Tradition

Steve Stricker got the next best thing to a major championship, at least for a 50-something player.

Stricker ran away with his first senior major Monday, closing with a 4-under 68 for a six-shot victory at the weather-delayed Regions Tradition.

Stricker led by two shots heading into the final round at Greystone’s Founders Course and went bogey-free, finishing at 18-under 270. It was the fourth win in 18 PGA Tour Champions starts for the Ryder Cup captain, who plays regularly on the PGA Tour.

“This is special,” said Stricker, wiping tears from his eyes during a TV interview. “I get emotional. I hate this part.”

Stricker, 52, has 12 PGA Tour victories but never won a major, finishing second at the 1998 PGA Championship to Vijay Singh. This one wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

“I wish I would have won one out there,” said Stricker, who’s scheduled to compete at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. “Nothing can compare to that, I think, winning a major out on the regular tour. But to win one out here, this is the next level, I guess.”

Discovery buys Golf Digest

Discovery Inc. purchased Golf Digest on Monday in a deal that will provide exclusive content from Tiger Woods and strengthen its ties with the PGA Tour as it sets out to build golf’s largest digital network.

Terms were not disclosed.

The announcement comes nearly one year after Discovery signed a $2 billion deal with the PGA Tour to deliver golf content directly to 220 markets outside the United States over the next 12 years. It then signed Woods to a partnership and formed GolfTV, for which Woods provides content not found anywhere else.

Woods made his only public comments since his winner’s news conference at the Masters in an interview with GolfTV. While the content is distributed to overseas markets, Discovery has been liberal in sharing portions of that interview and other content from golf’s biggest star on social media.

PGA Championship

When: Thursday-Sunday

Where: Bethpage State Park (Black Course), Farmingdale, N.Y.

Yards/par: 7,459/35-35–70

Field: 156 – 136 tour pros, 20 club pros

2018 winner: Brooks Koepka, who finished two shots ahead of Tiger Woods at Bellerive.