ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI | At a winners-only Tuesday night dinner preceding the PGA Championship, Tiger Woods told the story of playing with Jack Nicklaus in the 2000 PGA Championship at Valhalla.
Bob May. Tiger pointing the ball in the hole. Third leg of the Tiger Slam. It was Nicklaus’s final PGA Championship and there was a sense of the legend’s torch being passed from one generation to another. You could almost hear Nicklaus saying, “Here kid, handle this with care.”
During their two days together at Valhalla, Nicklaus told Woods that he played with Gene Sarazen in the Squire’s final PGA Championship.
“It’s interesting what this game of golf can do, how we can basically last for so many different generations,” Woods said Thursday.
OK, back to now.
No one is suggesting this is Woods’ final PGA Championship but his grouping with Justin Thomas and Rory McIlroy, products of a golf generation he inspired, registered with the four-time PGA winner.
Throw in the fact that Thomas was an 8-year-old bouncing around the Valhalla clubhouse 17 years ago and Woods could feel a karmic circle being closed.
By 8 a.m. Thursday, while the coffee still was fresh and the sweat hadn’t fully popped on the steamy August day, Bellerive’s par-4 10th hole was lined four and five deep with fans intent on seeing the day’s glamour group. No question Woods was the star among stars as he always is, but he nearly ruined his PGA Championship before he hit his third tee shot.
Woods started bogey, double-bogey and looked like the funk that invaded his game during the previous weekend at Firestone had made the trip to St. Louis. He hit a ball in the water on his second hole, sticking his club in the ground and hitting it fat.
From there, Woods steadied himself and finished with an even-par 70, turning a tournament-wrecking round into a nifty escape.
“It kept me in the golf tournament,” Woods said.
Thomas, after starting fast, finished with 69 while McIlroy matched Woods with his own 70. Solid, if unspectacular, starts for each of them.
Maybe it wasn’t a passing-the-torch moment. It didn’t feel that way. It was more like a really cool scene on a really warm, muggy day.
“It was pretty cool to be out there 8:30 in the morning and have an atmosphere like that,” McIlroy said. “J.T. and I were saying it’s going to get a little crazy tomorrow afternoon. So we’re looking forward to that.”