In the two weeks leading up to the Masters, Seve Ballesteros would prepare for his trip to Augusta by staying at home in Pedrena, Spain, but living according to American time.
All players have their preferred way of getting ready for tournaments, which is why I don’t question Tiger Woods’s decision not to play in between claiming his fifth Green Jacket last month and this week’s US PGA Championship.
Fifteen Major titles tell you Tiger knows how to prepare for these occasions. He doesn’t need competitive golf – he could not play for a year and be ready for a Major because he knows what to do at home to get his game and mindset right.
Woods has a fantastic chance of winning a 16th at Bethpage Black on Sunday and is the favourite in my book. Only one person has ever won more Majors than him and he won the most recent one.
Tiger is also one of the few current players to have won before on this difficult New York course – and that is hugely significant, all the more so because it was a Major, the 2002 US Open. He was in the top six when the tournament returned there in 2009 too.
His 2002 victory meant he won the first two Majors of that year, a feat achieved by only two other players in the last half-century. It would be amazing if he did it again, although the real fairytale would be if Tiger won the Grand Slam to draw level with Jack Nicklaus’s record 18 Majors.
He is formidable again. Although some of his driving at the Masters wasn’t fantastic, he did what he had to do and generally seems to be much more in control of his game now. The way he played his last round at Augusta was like a chess master, and that approach is what will be required again this week.
Tiger’s first Major for 11 years was unique in that he came from behind on the final day. That is another feather in his cap and shows that he is capable of anything.
The Black Course at Bethpage State Park was an extremely tough test in its day. Most leading players are long hitters now so the length is less of a hindrance. I expect the set-up to be penal but very fair – and I like that.
We are starting to see all the Majors come into line and put a premium on hitting fairways and greens, rather than being able to smash the ball 350 yards and make a mockery of the game. Last year’s Ryder Cup at Le Golf National was a fantastic example of how to set up a course so that the best golf wins.
Defending champion Brooks Koepka was 70th on his only competitive outing at Bethpage Black, at the Barclays – now the Northern Trust Open – in 2016. He is also yet to win this year, but he has two runner-up finishes – including at the Masters – and was fourth at the Byron Nelson on Sunday, so his form is good.
World No1 Dustin Johnson has won twice in 2019 and also shared second place at Augusta. He finished 13th on this course at the 2012 Barclays and is obviously a strong contender.
The man with the most consistent form this year remains Rory McIlroy. He won The Players Championship so well and has four more top fives and three more top 10s under his belt too. He disappointed at the Masters but as world No4 he has to be up there.
Of the Brits, former US Open winner Justin Rose is a very straight driver and one of our big chances. As is Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and Ian Poulter have been playing well, while Matt Wallace will be fired up by the disappointment of finishing second last week – and that can be a good thing going into a Major.
There are a lot of contenders: Francesco Molinari, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele; Jason Day has shown some form; Sergio Garcia is the only man with three top 10s on this course; Matt Kuchar could give you a run for your money; Patrick Reed won there in 2016. The last man to win a Major there, 2009 US Open champion Lucas Glover, is now back in the top 100 having slipped out of the top 600 at the end of 2014. There is one man to beat, however, and that is Tiger Woods.