By Andrew Both
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (Reuters) – Tiger Woods walked into the media interview room at the PGA Championship on Tuesday morning clutching a cup of hot coffee on a cool New York morning.
He hopes to be holding something far more valuable on Sunday night — the Wanamaker Trophy awarded to the winner of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black.
Judging by his words, the 43-year-old is in fine fettle as he prepares for his first tournament start since his Masters victory exactly one month ago.
Woods raised some eyebrows when he decided to skip the Wells Fargo Championship two weeks ago, thereby ensuring he would turn up this week without any competitive action between Augusta and Bethpage.
On Tuesday he erased concerns that there might be any physical issues behind his decision to play back-to-back majors without a tune-up gallop in between.
“To be honest, I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practising and preparing and logging all those hours again,” he said. “I was lifting (weights), feeling good in the gym, but I wasn’t prepared to log in the hours.
“Coming here is a different story… I feel rested and ready. I’ve done a lot of the leg work and hard work already trying to find my game over the past year-and-a-half. Now it’s just maintaining it.”
Woods’ Masters victory came two years after a spinal fusion that resurrected a career in danger of ending prematurely.
Instead, he notched one of the great comebacks of sporting history, ending a decade-long major drought and collecting his 15th major title.
Northern Ireland’s four-times major champion Rory McIlroy said on Tuesday: “I still don’t think people understand what he (Woods) did in April and coming back, and with everything that he’s been through.
“Whether it’s the greatest comeback in sports, that’s probably up for debate, but from what I’ve experienced and the things that he said when I’ve been around him … that’s unbelievable.”
Three-times major winner Padraig Harrington, meanwhile, was impressed with the way Woods played within himself and closed out his one-shot Masters win in clinical fashion.
“He wasn’t interested in proving to the world that he’s a good driver of the ball or anything like that,” the Irishman added. “He just was interested in getting the job done.”
Woods for his part knows he has to play and practise without pushing his body too hard.
“That’s the fickle nature of having my back fused,” he said. “Some days I have more range of motion, some days I don’t.
“I can’t spend every day working on every part of my game and so I end up spending a lot of time on my short game, pitching and putting.
“I don’t load the body like I used to and be explosive on the range. Those days are gone.”
(Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Ken Ferris)