JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Tiger Woods snuck in a quick nine holes Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the PGA Championship, his first major since the Masters.
Woods, paired with Arjun Atwal at the Atlanta Athletic Club, was joined by teacher Sean Foley – who was adjusting and tweaking his star pupil’s stance and swing throughout the round. Woods hasn’t won a tournament since November 2009 and hasn’t won a major since the U.S. Open three years ago.
Atwal, though, said Woods is closing in on the swing that’s won him 14 major titles in his career.
“He looked good,” Atwal said. “He’s really flushing it and got that sound again. He just needs more repetitions.”
Woods was surrounded by security guards after his round and did not speak to reporters. He has a news conference scheduled for Wednesday morning.
He returned last week from a knee injury, tying for 37th at the WGC-Bridgestone.
Woods was easy-going with the large gallery that followed him over the front nine and took mobile phone photos at nearly every turn. He smiled at a little girl walking to the seventh tee and answered, “What’s up?” after she called his name. He signed autographs for eager fans following the round.
When Atwal accidently hit Woods in the leg with an easy practice chip, he asked, “Was that the bad leg?”
“It is now,” Woods responded with a smile.
Woods hurt his knee at the Masters this past April, then withdrew from The Players Championship after nine holes a month later when the pain got to be too much. He said he wouldn’t compete again until he was fully healthy. Woods started with a 68 at Bridgestone, then gradually fell from contention.
The PGA Championship is the 35-year-old Woods’ final chance this year to edge closer to Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
OVERLOOKED NO. 1: Luke Donald wonders what a No. 1 golfer has to do to get a little TV coverage.
He joked that TV cameras don’t spent much time with their lenses on him, despite the Englishman owning the top spot in the world rankings for the 11th week. “I understand that when I’m in the U.S., being a player from England, I’m not going to get as much support,” he said Tuesday at the PGA Championships.
Donald could up his Q-rating with a victory this week at the Atlanta Athletic Club. He won the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February and added a pair of wins in Europe at the Barclays Scottish Open and the BMW PGA Championship. He was also runner-up three times this season, including last week at the WGC-Bridgestone.
Donald took over the No. 1 ranking in May with his victory at the BMW, beating fellow Englishman and good friend Lee Westwood in a playoff.
Donald played his college golf in the United States, winning an NCAA individual championship at Northwestern in 1999. He knows success in a major brings people attention, like young Rory McIlroy received after winning the U.S. Open last June. Donald tied for fourth at the Masters, but has struggled since then with a 45th at the U.S. Open before missing the cut at the British.
Donald said his strong showing at Bridgestone last week gives him confidence he can contend throughout the season’s final major. Still, Donald accepts he probably won’t match the TV time enjoyed this week by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson or McIlroy.
“Some personalities attract more attention and media,” Donald said. “I’m not kind of one of those. And that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
BACK IN THE PEACH STATE: Charl Schwartzel wasn’t on anyone’s radar screen the last time he teed it up for a major tournament in Georgia. That changed after the 26-year-old South African’s stunning victory at the Masters last April.
Schwartzel says that win kicked up his confidence in majors. That’s apparent with his performances since then, tying for ninth at the U.S. Open and for 16th at the British Open.
“You know, after the win at the Masters, I just feel like every time I enter one of these major championships that I can compete in them and get a win out of them,” he said. “I think you can see why the last couple of majors I’ve played in.”
Schwartzel was four strokes behind Rory McIlroy in the final round at Augusta National. But he outlasted the field with birdies on the final four holes to take the green jacket. He said the next few weeks were a swirl of attention and recognition. But as the season has gone on, some of that has faded for Schwartzel.
“I don’t know if I’ve just gotten used to it, but I think things have settled down a little bit,” he said.
Schwartzel played an early practice round at the Atlanta Athletic Club and found course conditions outstanding. He said the greens are just about as fast as Augusta National, which he thinks suits his putting stroke and his chances to add the PGA Championship to his majors list.
Plus, it doesn’t hurt to return to the Peach State. It “gives you a little feel of good memories,” Schwartzel said. “The course is completely different, but there’s things to take out of it, being back here.”
DIVOTS: Bryce Molder was playing a few practice chips on the par-3 seventh hole when he said hello to the small group sitting in the shade. One fan asked if Molder wanted them to stay quiet or get loud as he hit. “I won’t be able to hear you for all the demons I got in my own head,” he said. Molder has missed the cut in half of the 22 PGA Tour events he’s played in. … University of Illinois golf coach Mike Small wasn’t offering any golf tips to his practice partners Tuesday. He played with PGA Tour standouts Steve Stricker, Scott Verplank and Jerry Kelly. Small is playing in his seventh PGA Championship. His best showing is a 69th place in 2007. … Webb Simpson used a hybrid to ace the 264-yard, par-3 15th hole on Tuesday.