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Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson Already Playing Bethpage Black Ahead Of PGA Championship

BETHPAGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) - On the heels of Tiger Woods' Masters victory, anticipation for the tournament starting on May 16 is at an all-time high.

The PGA Championship agreed to move to May for the first time in 70 years to help the golf season end before football and to energize a century-old major that was looked upon as the last and the least of the Grand Slam events.

The weekend is officially sold out, and the course that straddles both Nassau and Suffolk counties is revered and respected by the best in golf.

The crowds are expected to be massive and road closures surrounding the course will be in effect. Free shuttle services provided, and patrons have to leave their cars at Jones Beach or take the LIRR to Bethpage. For almost two years, 400 state and local police forces joined federal agents to work on safety and security.

On Thursday morning, Woods and Phil Mickelson were spotted practicing the greens at Bethpage Black.

Woods has golf buzzing again after putting together the final piece on a captivating comeback by winning the Masters. Eleven years since he last won a major, two years after a fourth back surgery and with no guarantees he would play again, Woods ushered in a new era of Tigermania.

For years, Woods was talked about in the past tense. Now it's about the future.

And the wait for the next major is shorter than ever.

"We were very excited about the May change before Tiger made his fireworks in Georgia," said Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America. "We think we made a great decision, but we'd rather be lucky than good, in terms of what he did in the Masters. We thought it was smart. It looks brilliant now."

For all the talk about whether Woods authored the greatest comeback in sports, perhaps the bigger question is how much he has left. Anticipation now is based on results, not just wishful thinking.

He is the betting favorite at the PGA Championship and for the first time in five years has a mathematical chance to reach No. 1 in the world. The more significant number is 18. That's the number of majors Jack Nicklaus won, the record Woods — who won his 15th at the Masters — can contemplate again.

"It took him an entire career to get to 18," Woods said. "So now that I've had another extension to my career — one that I didn't think I had a couple of years ago — if I do things correctly and everything falls my way, yeah, it's a possibility. I'm never going to say it's not."

Woods made his comments to GOLFTV, the Discovery-owned channel with whom he has an endorsement. His only other public comments since the Masters were at the White House Rose Garden when President Donald Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Woods said at the ceremony his Masters victory was "the highlight of what I've accomplished so far in my life on the golf course."

Bethpage Black brings back strong memories.

The public course on Long Island is where Woods first chased the calendar Grand Slam in 2002, winning the Masters and then going wire-to-wire in the U.S. Open at Bethpage. Lucas Glover won the 2009 U.S. Open on a sloppy Bethpage course that took on so much rain it took five days to get in 72 holes.

The common denominator at both was Phil Mickelson settling for second at the two majors held at Bethpage.

Mickelson made a strong bid to overcome a five-shot deficit to Woods, and he was tied for the lead with five holes to play in 2009. Cheers alone suggest Mickelson is the people's choice for majors in the New York area. He missed the cut in his lone appearance ahead of the PGA Championship but still comes in with confidence from a pair of runner-up finishes in majors at Bethpage.

"I think the best thing for me is the way the people there treat me," Mickelson said. "They treat me so well, and I feel that is an advantage. If I can get my game sharp and play well, there is a good chance that energy can get me to the finish line."

About the 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black

Dates: May 16-19.
Site: Bethpage State Park (Black Course).
Length: 7,459 yards.
Par: 35-35-70.
Field: 156 players (136 tour pros, 20 club pros).
Prize money: TBA ($11 million in 2018).
Winner's share: TBA ($1.98 million in 2018).
Defending champion: Brooks Koepka.

Last year: Koepka blocked out the cheers for a charging Tiger Woods with two birdies on the back nine at Bellerive for a 4-under 66 and a two-shot victory over Woods. In oppressive heat in St. Louis, Koepka finished at 264 to set the PGA Championship record and tie Henrik Stenson (2016 British Open) for lowest 72-hole score at all majors. Koepka became only the fifth player to win the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in the same year, and the first since Woods in 2000.

Tiger Tales: Tiger Woods ended 11 years without a major by winning the Masters for his 15th major, three behind the record held by Jack Nicklaus. A victory would tie him with Nicklaus with five PGA titles.

Grand Slam: Jordan Spieth gets his third attempt at winning the PGA Championship to become the sixth player with the career Grand Slam. He tied for 28th and tied for 12th in his previous two attempts.

Move to May: The PGA Championship moves to May for the first time since 1949.

Bethpage champions: Tiger Woods (2002 U.S. Open), Lucas Glover (2009 U.S. Open), Nick Watney (2012 Barclays), Patrick Reed (2016 Barclays).

Key statistic: Brooks Koepka is a combined 47-under par in his last five PGA Championship appearances.

Noteworthy: None of the five players with the career Grand Slam completed it at the PGA Championship.

Quoteworthy: "We thought it was smart. It looks brilliant now." — PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh on the PGA Championship moving to May in a year that Tiger Woods won the Masters.

Television: Thursday and Friday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. (TNT); Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. (TNT), 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (CBS Sports).

Brooks Koepka is the defending champion and will try to join Woods as the only back-to-back winners of the PGA Championship since it switched to stroke play in 1958. Woods did it twice. Koepka held off a noisy charge by Woods at Bellerive in St. Louis last year to win by one. At the Masters, Koepka finished one shot behind Woods.

"I got the better of him at St. Louis and he got the better of me at Augusta," Koepka said. "I texted him on the way home on Sunday, on the flight home. Just said, 'Congrats.' That was awesome, fun to see. He responded with, 'We're 1-1.' Hopefully, we'll make that 2-1 very shortly."

Adding to the anticipation of the PGA Championship is that it's more than just Woods and Koepka.

Dustin Johnson, the No. 1 player in the world, also was a runner-up at the Masters. That might have been the toughest major for Woods to win because it was the first time he had a half-dozen players to contend with on the back nine. In his previous 14 majors, he never had to worry about more than one or two players, if any.

Jordan Spieth would love to be in the mix this time around, considering what's at stake.

This is the third time Spieth comes to the PGA Championship with a chance to become only the sixth player to complete the career Grand Slam. Rory McIlroy missed his fifth attempt at the Masters. Mickelson gets his fifth chance at the U.S. Open next month at Pebble Beach.

Recent form would suggest a struggle for Spieth. He hasn't won in his last 43 events worldwide. He hasn't been in contention since he played in the final group of the British Open last year.

"I think I'll be flying under the radar compared with previous years, just based on results of the last year or so," he said. "But I don't mind that."

Maybe it helps that the PGA Championship is no longer the last major of the year, in August when temperatures approach triple digits and the season already feels long. The forecast next week is for temperatures in the upper 60s to lower 70s, which might make this feel more like the West Coast Swing.

Bethpage Black is still a tough. There's a reason it has a sign posted on the first tee that says, "Warning: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course which is recommended only for highly skilled golfers." In two majors, only six players have finished under par.

It might be different for the PGA Championship, although Kerry Haigh, who sets up the course for the PGA, says the fairways will be the same width as they were for the U.S. Open except on No. 18.

What likely won't change is the energy outside the ropes. Bethpage is notorious for its vocal crowds, and if bringing a major championship back to their public golf course isn't enough, they now have the Tiger Woods they were used to seeing.

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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