Tiger Woods admitted he never imagined being in contention in consecutive majors after threatening to pull off one of the greatest sporting comebacks of all time in the US PGA Championship.
Woods underwent spinal fusion surgery in April last year and was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence the following month when he was found asleep at the wheel of his car.
The 42-year-old, who had five prescription drugs in his system, later pleaded guilty to reckless driving and will spend a year on probation and undergo a diversion programme.
Woods only returned to competitive golf in November but held a one-shot lead with eight holes to play in the Open at Carnoustie and finished just two behind Brooks Koepka after a thrilling final round of 64 at Bellerive Country Club.
“I was in contention in the last two majors and would never have foreseen that a year ago and I’m just so thankful to be here,” Woods said.
“I didn’t know what my schedule would be. I didn’t know how many tournaments I would play this year, or if I would even play. So each tournament brought about its own challenges.
“At the beginning of the year if you would say I would have a legit chance to win the last two major championships, I’d say with what swing? I didn’t have a swing at the time. I had no speed. My putting was OK but God, I hadn’t played in two years. So it’s been a hell of a process for sure.”
Woods began the final round four shots behind Koepka and closed to within a shot three times, but Koepka crucially birdied the 15th and 16th before a wayward drive on the par-five 17th cost Woods the chance of a birdie himself.
“I was pretty ticked at the British Open,” Woods added. “I had the lead there. This one I never quite got to the lead. I was always trailing. I had to keep making birdies. I had to go get it and I tried.
“The drive on 17… I didn’t drive it good all day. I was struggling with my golf swing. I warmed up hitting it left, I was hitting it right. So I knew this was going to be a struggle to try and piece together around and I did.”
Tiger Woods admits he will have plenty of homework to do as he looks to claim a 15th major title in the US PGA Championship.
Woods was among the players due to compete at Bellerive Country Club in 2001 when the WGC-American Express Championship was cancelled due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The 42-year-old also missed the 2008 BMW Championships at the same venue due to injury and was only able to play five holes in practice before his pre-tournament press conference on Tuesday due to thunderstorms.
“I literally haven’t set foot on this golf course since that week in 2001,” Woods said. “I didn’t get up here pre British Open and yesterday [Monday] I took the day off.
“Today we only got in five holes and didn’t really get a chance to see a whole lot, so I’ll have to do some more homework tomorrow and get a good feel for what’s going on for the rest of the week.
“I needed that day off. I spent a few times in the ice bath just trying to get some inflammation down and just trying to get ready for the rest of the week.
“There’s going to be certain days that I’m just not going to have the speed and the flexibility and the movement that I once did. I’m 42 now and I’ve had four back surgeries. So things are going to be different from day-to-day, and it’s just about managing it.”
Rory McIlroy admits his game is stuck in neutral in his last competitive start before the Open, but believes he would “win every week” if he can start firing on all cylinders.
Tournament host McIlroy could only manage a third round of 72 in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Ballyliffin to end his slim chances of winning the title for a second time in three years.
The four-time major winner has been pleased with his long game all week but continued to struggle on the greens as he carded four birdies and four bogeys to remain one under par.
“I’m just sort of stuck in neutral this week and hopefully can finish off with a good one tomorrow,” McIlroy said.
“I think it’s almost to the point where you need to start caring less about whether the putt goes in or not and just make a good stroke. If it goes in, great, and if it doesn’t, it’s not really a different result than you’ve had the last few holes.
“Tee to green has been really good. I could take my tee-to-green game straight to the Open in a couple weeks’ time and be happy where that is. It’s just a matter of being a little more efficient and taking my opportunities when I give myself them, be just a little more efficient with my scoring.”
McIlroy, who will not contest the Scottish Open next week, won the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this season with the best putting statistics of his PGA Tour career.
And asked what would happen if he could combine this week’s ball striking and his putting at Bay Hill, the 29-year-old added: “I would win every week I played. Simple as that. If I had 100 putts every week I played and hit the ball halfway decent, I’d win every week.”