The course is familiar to Tiger Woods. The circumstances are not.
Medinah is where Woods buried that 8-foot par putt on the 17th hole in 1999 to win the PGA Championship for the first time by holding off teenage Sergio Garcia. He returned to Medinah in 2006 and won the PGA Championship again, this time making history as the only player to win multiple majors in consecutive years.
“I’ve had some good memories,” Woods said.
Woods withdrew last week after one round of the FedEx Cup playoffs opener, citing a mild strain of the oblique. That dropped him from No. 28 to No. 38 in the FedEx Cup because points are quadruple during the postseason.
The PGA Tour projects that he needs to finish at least 11th — he has only one top 10 since winning the Masters — to have any chance of being among the top 30 players who advance to the Tour Championship for the FedEx Cup finale and a shot at the $15 million bonus.
Woods is the defending champion at East Lake, capping off his comeback from four back surgeries with a vintage performance at the Tour Championship.
“I’m trying to win this tournament just like anybody else in this field, and trying to get to East Lake and trying to get to a place where a lot of things changed for me last year,” Woods said after his pro-am. “And hopefully, I can make that happen.”
That it even might happen is a mild surprise.
Woods says he didn’t feel right last week at Liberty National, and it showed in a pro-am round when he didn’t hit full shots on the back nine, only chipping and putting. When he withdrew after a 75 in the first round with the oblique injury, it seemed as though that might be the end of his season.
But he showed up Tuesday at Medinah, only to start this week in the same way as last week.
“Took the back nine off, chipped and putted quite a bit,” Woods said. He then added that his body “definitely doesn’t feel like it did on Friday, that’s for sure.”
“It was nice to take those days off,” he said, referring to the three-day weekend from withdrawing. “I had to just let it calm down and get a bunch of treatment on it, and it feels so much better.”
Woods attributed the injury to slight changes in his swing to alleviate pressure off a fused lower back.
“As I’ve said before, the forces have got to go somewhere, and unfortunately when I make any kind of tweaks and changes to my swing, it’s like a new body part is aching,” he said. “Unfortunately, I can’t play around the back like I used to. And unfortunately, things flare up.”
So many others are in better position, minus the history at Medinah.
Brooks Koepka remains atop the FedEx Cup standings, even with another pedestrian week in the playoffs. Koepka tied for 30th at Liberty National. The world’s No. 1 player has only two top 10s in 16 appearances in these postseason events.
He described it as frustrating, though nothing four major championships won’t soothe.
“I’ve been so burned out,” Koepka said. “I’ve done a better job of being in shape and focusing a little bit more, focusing a little bit harder and trying to gear the schedule for around this. The way the schedule worked out this year, the last four months, just really haven’t had too many weeks off.”
Most of the focus is on the 30 players who advance to East Lake. There is no cut in the 69-man field, which should help (Kevin Na withdrew because his wife is expecting to give birth). Andrew Putnam is holding down the 30th spot by four points over Ryan Palmer, but anyone can advance. Patrick Reed was 50th starting the playoffs, and his victory at Liberty National moved him to No. 2.
Among those with plenty of work to do are Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and Ian Poulter, who has never been to the Tour Championship since the FedEx Cup playoffs began in 2007. He still recalls — vividly — the time 10 years ago when he finished two-hundredths of a point behind 30th place.
“I was sitting on the plane, tied 30ths, delighted to go to East Lake, and then being told the plane is going somewhere else,” Poulter said. “So great, yeah, I remember it. It’s only been 10 years.”
Poulter has the strongest memories of Medinah this side of Woods from having led Europe to the greatest Ryder Cup comeback by a visiting team in 2012. Poulter birdied the last five holes to win a fourballs match Saturday evening that salvaged European hopes, and he went 4-0 for the week.
So does Rory McIlroy, at No. 3 in the FedEx Cup. Not only did he meet his wife during the Ryder Cup at Medinah, he forgot what time zone he was in and needed a police escort to the course to avoid missing his tee time.
That squad car was later put up for auction. Poulter bought it for $7,000.
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