Woods, 43, hasn’t played since the Masters. He bypassed the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte, N.C., where he has won before, but not, he said, because of any physical infirmity.
Woods, who has had four back operations since 2014, alluded on Tuesday to a letdown after his emotional Masters finish. “I wasn’t ready yet to start the grind of practicing and preparing and logging all those hours again,” he said, adding: “Coming here is a different story. I was able to log in the hours, put in the time and feel rested and ready.”
Woods, a four-time P.G.A. champion, is scheduled to tee off at 8:24 a.m. Thursday with Brooks Koepka and Francesco Molinari.
To contend, Woods will need to drive the ball as well as he did at Augusta National. The 7,500-yard Bethpage Black layout is a beast, featuring two 500-yard par-4s. The rough is thicker than a hockey playoff beard, and the ball doesn’t travel so far in chilly weather. Not that Max Homa, the winner of the Charlotte tournament, seemed to notice on Tuesday; he won the long-drive contest with a 318-yard attempt.
“If you can’t find the fairway here, I think you’re really going to run into issues,” said Koepka, who held off Woods to win last year’s P.G.A. Championship at Bellerive Country Club and finished a stroke behind Woods at the Masters.
In the 29-year-old Koepka, Woods might finally have found the genuine rival who eluded him in his prime.
“I don’t see it as a rivalry,” Koepka said, “although it is fun to play against him, best player to ever play the game.”