LOUISVILLE — Notes and quotes from Tuesday at the PGA Championship at Valhalla:
Whether Tiger Woods makes it to the first tee or not Thursday at the PGA Championship (there was no word as of Tuesday afternoon), Woods will still cast a long shadow over this tournament.
As he does any time he’s scheduled to play.
Woods had to pull out of the WGC-Bridgestone Sunday, suffering from back spasms, just three months after he had back surgery.
“Obviously, this is a serious issue that he’s dealing with,” said two-time Masters champion (2012, ‘14) Bubba Watson, speaking of Woods. “It’s unfortunate for our game. He grows the game. He moves the needle more than anybody else.”
“Obviously everyone wants him to be back at the golf tournaments,” said 2010 PGA champ and current U.S. Open champ Martin Kaymer. “If you win a big tournament without Tiger in the field, you know, you still feel happy about it, but you want to play against him, and it’s nice if he’s part of every tournament. He brings a lot of people into it. It has a different flair.
“It’s such a shame that he had to pull out last week, and I hope, as everybody hopes, that he will come back and play this week.”
Watson cautioned about writing Woods off, as many are currently doing.
“I think Tiger, as soon as he gets back healthy, he’s going to be back performing at a high level,” Watson said. “He set the bar so high for himself that the media and the fans expect him to be up there. You know, a year ago he won five times, so I don’t think he’s that far off. People say he was in a slump ... I wish I was in a slump.”
The half dozen or so pros who met with the media Tuesday all raved about the condition of the par-71, 7,458-yard Valhalla layout, a spread that’s undergone some subtle changes since the Ryder Cup was here in 2008 and the Senior PGA in 2011.
“The greens are perfect, the fairways are incredible,” said Kentuckian Kenny Perry, from Franklin. “I didn’t see a blade of grass out of place out there. Being a Kentuckian, it made me pretty proud.”
He should be, Phil Mickelson said.
“It’s just in immaculate condition,” Mickelson said of Valhalla. “I think the setup of it is sensational in that the fairways are a very fair width. There’s nothing tricked up about the golf course. The greens are in perfect condition. Pristine. The rough is challenging, but it’s not hack it out. You have some decisions to make. It’s just a very well thought out, wonderful setup.”
Mickelson is in his 22nd year on the PGA Tour, and played in both PGAs at Valhalla — in 1996 when Mark Brooks edged Perry in a playoff, and in 2000 when Woods beat Bob May in a playoff.
Mickelson was not a key player in either of those two tournaments, but he has fond memories of helping the United States win the 2008 Ryder Cup here.
“It really is a fun place to play because of the memories that we had in 2008,” Mickelson said. “Winning the Ryder Cup here was a very emotional experience, and the people here in Louisville ... we kept calling them our 13th man because they were such an asset to us, keeping us motivated, excited, and giving us momentum. It’s a great golf town, and just a great place to play. People here in Louisville should be proud of it.”
The 44-year-old Mickelson was asked what it feels like to play golf these days with so many younger peers who grew up watching him.
“Just makes me feel old,” Mickelson said, laughing. “You know, when somebody says, ‘Yeah, I used to watch you on TV when I was six’, how do you respond to that?
“But it is fun to play with some of these guys, and see their energy and how much they appreciate being out on Tour, and all the great things that come with that. When you’re out here for 22 years, you sometimes take it for granted.”
McIlroy steps up
Prior to the start of this season, Rory McIlroy noted that golf “was looking for someone to put their hand up, and sort of become one of the dominant players in the game.”
Though far from boastful, given his accomplishments, McIlroy admitted Tuesday that he envisioned himself filling that void when he said it.
McIlroy, 25, took over the world No. 1 ranking this past week from Adam Scott after McIlroy won the British Open and WGC-Bridgestone back to back.
“I felt like I had the ability to do that, and it’s just nice to be able to win a few tournaments and get back to where I feel like I should be, which is near the top of the world rankings and competing in majors and winning golf tournaments,” McIlroy said when asked if his recent run signifies the start of a “Rory era.”
“I’m not sure you can call that the start of an era, but I’m just really happy with where my golf game is at the moment, and I just want to try to continue that for as long as possible.”
Valhalla seems to set up well for McIlroy, who’s increased his driving distance and accuracy this summer.
“I don’ t know much about the golf course, but from people that have spoken to me and guys in the locker room, it will suit my game style pretty well,” said McIlroy, who had never played Valhalla coming into Tuesday’s practice round.
“I know it’s going to be a long golf course, and there’s going to be a lot of drivers off tees. I feel like I’ve driven the ball very well the last few weeks and hopefully I’ll continue to do that, and if I do, hopefully I’ll have a good chance.”
McIlroy was asked what it’s like to be in the kind of zone he’s in now.
“I think what’s going through my head when I approach each shot is just that shot,” he said. “When I’m mentally at my best on the golf course, that’s what it is. It’s approaching every shot as if that’s the only shot you’re going to play that day. Put everything into that, and don’t get ahead of yourself.”
Lesson from Norman
Sergio Garcia was asked last week to name the peer whose demeanor he most admires, and he mentioned 2013 Masters champ Adam Scott of Australia. A reporter used the phrase “good loser” when he asked Scott about Garcia’s comments on Tuesday.
“Yeah, I’m a great loser, thanks,” Scott said, laughing.
Scott went on to note that good sportsmanship, shall we say, is something he gained from watching his childhood idol, fellow Aussie Greg Norman, growing up.
“Growing up, I think I had a role model from sitting back and watching Greg on TV,” said Scott, who was fifth in the recent British Open. “I watched him handle some pretty tough losses. I’m sure he was cut up about a lot of them, but from watching him on TV, he seemed to handle them fairly graciously. I tried to emulate most things he did as a kid, and that was one of them. That’s where I got a lot of my golfing knowledge from.”
Bubba Watson was asked two questions at his presser Tuesday that suggested he can be, in a word, difficult.
For example, tournament officials elected to hold a long driving contest off the 10th tee during Tuesday’s practice round. Several players said they loved that wrinkle, but Watson chose to use a 3-iron off the tee, calling the contest “hokey.”
“I want to practice the game of golf, and I want to learn this golf course,” Watson explained. “I don’t see that we should have a competition like that while we’re playing a practice round and learning the golf course, trying to win a great championship. It was just kind of weird to me.
“But I did hit my 3-iron perfect, though, right down the middle. Longest 3-iron of the day. Take that.”
Read my favorite tweet, all-time, during some dead time in the USA Today sports insert of the Courier-Journal. It came from Zach Walters, an infielder in the Cleveland Indians organization. Walters wrote: “Raisin cookies that look like chocolate chip cookies are the main reason I have trust issues.”...
Then, taking paranoia, er, caution, to new heights, Kyle Tucker of the Courier-Journal notes in an article Tuesday that UK coach John Calipari allowed a “few” members of the media into practice Monday (wow, talk about Christmas in August!) as the Wildcats prepare for their trip to the Bahamas, a six-game exhibition that starts this weekend.
“The only stipulation: No specifics, only impressions, can be reported,” Tucker said the lucky few were told.