Can Tiger Win PGA Championship? Why Woods Face Uphill Task at TPC Harding Park

When Tiger Woods triumphed at The Masters last year to clinch his 15th major it was legitimate to wonder whether he was finally ready to dominate golf again or whether the success in Augusta, Georgia, was merely a glorious swan song to a phenomenal career.

Sixteen months on since Woods put on the Green Jacket again, the latter seems the more plausible answer as uncertainty continues to surround the 44-year-old, his fitness and his game. So often an accurate bellwether, not even bookmakers know what to make of Woods ahead of the PGA Championship, which starts on Thursday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco, California.

DraftKings has him as a 20/1 fifth-favorite, while BetAmerica has him as a 28/1 outsider and at 37/1 Woods is not even within the top-10 favorites with FanDuel.

Considering Woods is a 15-time major winner and last won one of golf's four signature events just over a year ago, the odds may seem ungenerously long. However, they illustrate how difficult it has become to predict which version of Woods will show up at a major or whether he will show up at all to begin with.

Between his first triumph at The Masters in 1997 and his third U.S. Open crown in 2008, Woods was ever-present in the majors, making the cut 45 times in 46 starts and winning 14 times. In the 12 intervening years since his triumph at Torrey Pines in 2008, he missed 12 of the next 44 majors. When he did play, Woods missed the cut nine times in 32 starts, with his triumph at The Masters last year marking a glorious exception to the rule.

Such erratic form could continue this week, with Woods arriving in California with little practice under his belt and the prospect of having to face adverse weather.

The need to carefully manage his schedule to preserve his back after four surgeries which included a spinal fusion means he has spent very little time on the course this season and the PGA Championship will be his first start on the PGA Tour since finishing tied for 40th at the Memorial Tournament last month and only the second since finishing last among those who made the cut at the Genesis Invitational in February.

With the exception of 2007, when the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was moved to the week before the PGA Championship, throughout his career Woods has never played the week before a major and he sounded optimistic ahead of the first major of the season.

"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," he said on Tuesday.

"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."

Woods' troublesome back won't be helped by the cooler weather expected for San Francisco, with the high temperature not forecast to climb above 70 degrees this week.

Cold weather has long been Woods' achilles heel after his four surgeries and he has struggled when facing unseasonably cold weather at the last three majors.

"I think that for me when it's cooler like this, it's just, make sure that my core stays warm, layering up properly," he said. "I know I won't have the same range of motion as I would back home in Florida where it's 95 [degrees] every day. That's just the way it is."

If the lack of reps and the cooler weather suggest it may be wise not to expect Woods to land a 16th major this week, the PGA Championship's recent record hardly makes for a positive omen. Eight of the last 10 PGA Championship winners had won a tournament earlier in the season and nine of the last 10 winners had finished in the top-20 in one of their two previous starts. Woods fits neither of those requirements and doesn't fit the right demographic either, given eight of the last 10 PGA Championship winners were in their 20s and the remaining two were in their 30s.

It is not all bad news, though. Eight of the last 10 PGA Championship winners had previously registered a top-10 finish in the tournament and with four titles in eight years, Woods' pedigree in the event is second to none. Aside from statistical quirks, the biggest help for Woods could come from TPC Harding Park, a course where he won the WGC-American Express Championship in 2005 and then went 5-0-0 at the Presidents Cup four years later.

If that feels like a lifetime ago it's because it is, at least as far as Woods' career is concerned. As he showed at The Masters last year, Tiger is still capable of dominating the field when his body is willing to cooperate but as it's become common over the last few years, nobody quite knows the answer to that particular question.

Tiger Woods, PGA Tour
Tiger Woods plays his shot from the 11th tee during a practice round prior to the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park on August 5 in San Francisco, California. Ezra Shaw/Getty