ST. LOUIS, United States — Ten years after his last major victory and five years since his last triumph, Tiger Woods is back on the prowl and a new generation of rivals couldn’t be more thrilled.
When 98 of the world’s 100 top players tee off Thursday in the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club, there will be more than a few who hope to live out a boyhood dream and battle the 14-time major champion for glory on Sunday.
“He’s still Tiger,” said Britain’s 27-year old Tommy Fleetwood.
“For guys from my generation that would have grown up with Tiger in his prime, how many people get the chance to be in contention or play against Tiger Woods on a final day of a major when he was the guy you watched. He was the hero.”
Woods is only eight months into his comeback from spinal fusion surgery after missing most of the past two seasons with severe back pain that had him wondering if he might ever play again.
“Just for me to be able to have this opportunity again is a dream come true,” Woods said.
“I didn’t know if I could do this again, and lo and behold, here I am.
“So just coming back and being able to play at this level and compete, I’ve had my share of chances to win this year as well, hopefully I’ll get it done this week.”
Woods, ranked 51st, has not won a major title since the 2008 US Open and has not won any event since the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational.
Woods briefly led the British Open on Sunday but shared sixth last month at Carnoustie, while Fleetwood shared 12th.
“It’s something very special for quite a large number of players at the moment that he’s had his comeback and he’s playing well and we have that chance really, we could eventually be playing with Tiger on a Sunday coming down the stretch,” Fleetwood said.
New British Open champion Francesco Molinari of Italy, who played alongside Woods in the final round at Carnoustie, remains impressed with the former world number one and his impact on so many careers.
“He has changed the game for our generation,” Molinari said.
“Being a teenager growing up playing golf, in my generation we were all looking up to him, especially around 2000, 2001, 2002. He was doing unbelievable things.
“He has been a model and an idol for me growing up and it’s nice to see him back playing good golf. Hopefully we’ll be paired together late on Sunday again this week.”