FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — The PGA Championship might feel strange in the Big Ten football weather of May rather than the traditional vile humidity of August, but on Tuesday already it went and brought the unlikely. It staged back-to-back arguably the most appreciated athlete of 2019 and surely the most underappreciated athlete of 2018, each speaking at a microphone from the same sport, both heading for the monster Bethpage Black course, one at 43, the other at 29, and what contrast.
10 PLAYERS TO WATCH: See the 10 golfers most likely to win the PGA Championship in a gallery at the end of this story
Tiger Woods, having completed a recovery from couch-bound immobility to Masters implausibility, sounded all of 43 when he said he has no plans to regain dominance because planning to regain dominance would make no sense. "I feel [unsure] every day," he said two days before the start year's second major, which was formerly its fourth. "I don't know how sore I'm going to be the next morning. I don't. That's the fickle nature of having my back fused.
"Some days, I have more range of motion. Some days, I don't. Some days I ache more, and sometimes I don't. There's more volatility, put it that way. There's more days I feel older than my age than I do younger than my age. That's one of the trickier things. And then you add the golf component to it."
Brooks Koepka, having won three of the last eight major titles while finishing well or better in four others and tying for second last month in the Masters - a run shocking both in merit and in the lack of buzz over it - sounded all of 29 when he said his major-title total could get well more numerous. "I don't see why you can't get to double digits," he said of himself. "I think you keep doing what you're supposed to do, you play good, you peak at the right times.
"Like I said, I think sometimes majors are the easiest ones to win. Half the people shoot themselves out of it, and mentally I know I can beat most of them, and then from there it's those guys left, who's going to play good and who can win. I don't see any reason it can't get to double digits."
As that rarity, a guy with 15 major titles and a trip through incapacity between the 14th and 15th, Woods spoke of judicious scheduling. Coming off his Masters win in his most recent appearance, he will play back-to-back majors in the same year for the seventh time in a career that began in spring 1997. (He won two of those first six, the significant 1999 PGA which has just pulled up at 20 years ago, and the 2008 U.S. Open he broke with his leg broken.)
"Well, I think that I can't spend every day working on every part of my game," he said. "That's just not going to happen anymore."
So he spoke of being economical and wily and prepared and hitting a lot of wedge shots. "I don't load the body like I used to and be as explosive for, call it a three-, four-hour period on the range," he said. "Those days are gone. But what I can do is I can hit a lot of wedge shots. I can swing longer clubs easier and just make sure I have the feel and save it for game time."
As that rarity, a great player who has yet to garner matching attention, Koepka spoke of busier scheduling for sharper pre-major feel. He played the Byron Nelson last week as Woods used to do and finished fourth, and he has that intriguing distinction of having 60% of his PGA Tour wins (three of five) in majors. Analytically and not brashly, Koepka explained.
"The easiest way I can break it down is there's . . . 156 in the field, so you figure at least 80 of them I'm just going to beat," Koepka said. "From there, the other, you figure about half of them won't play well from there, so you're down to about maybe 35. And then from 35, some of them just, pressure is going to get to them. It only leaves you with a few more, and you've just got to beat those guys.
"If you just hang around - I think one of the big things that I've learned over the last few years is you don't need to win it, you don't have to try to go win it. Just hang around. If you hang around, good things are going to happen. So I think that's what's kind of caused me an issue in the regular PGA Tour events. I've gone out on Saturday and tried to build a cushion, maybe pressed a little bit too hard and gotten ahead of myself, where in the majors I just stay in the moment. I never think one hole ahead. I'm not thinking about tomorrow. I'm not thinking about the next shot. I'm just thinking about what I've got to do right then and there."
Woods spoke of craftier methods, the way he and Peyton Manning discussed probably around 2012, when the quarterback ailed and said he could do just six pushups, then went and won NFL MVP award. Woods spoke of feeling a milestone at weathering a weather delay last year at Memorial. He said 17 events in 2018 had been too many, and said he "kept changing equipment because my body kept changing."
Koepka said: "I mean, what's the point in fearing anybody? We're not fighting. I mean, unless I was standing there and not prepared for a punch. Other than that, he's not going to knock my teeth in. He's not going to hurt me. So what's there to be afraid of?"
From 43, Woods looked at 29 and said of Koepka, "I was never that big ... I did it differently. I didn't have muscle. I did it through whip and timing. Brooksy has just got pure power, and he's an athlete. He played other sports, and he could have easily been a baseball player."
From 29, Koepka looked at 43, called Woods "the best player to ever play the game," said he saw no rivalry because rivalries require more time. The idea that anyone would even think it's a rivalry, he said, does count as "pretty cool to hear."
10 players to watch at the PGA Championship
A capsule look at 10 top contenders in the 101st PGA Championship, to be played May 16-19 on the Black Course at Bethpage State Park (listed in predicted order of finish):