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Course familiarity could give Tiger edge in upcoming majors

Tiger Woods practices at the range earlier this week for the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bethpage State Park - Black Course. Peter Casey / USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods should be a contender at this week's PGA Championship and June's U.S. Open as he chases Jack Nicklaus' record haul of major titles because of his familiarity with the venues, longtime associate Greg McLaughlin said.

Woods stunned the sports world by winning the Masters at Augusta National last month to end an 11-year major drought and claim his 15th major title, moving within three victories of Nicklaus's long-standing record.

The American will tee off in competition for the first time since his Masters triumph on Thursday at the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in Farmingdale, N.Y., where he won the 2002 U.S. Open.

With year's edition of the U.S. Open back at Pebble Beach in California, where Woods won the title by a record 15 strokes in 2000, McLaughlin believes the 43-year-old will have a distinct advantage at the second and third majors of the year.

"Familiarity with courses is key for him," McLaughlin, who spent 14 years as chief executive of the Tiger Woods Foundation and now runs the World Golf Foundation, said in a recent interview.

"That's how he wins at Firestone six times, he wins Bay Hill six times. There's the term horses for courses and it's true," he said.

"So I would assume he'll be in contention certainly in the next two majors."

Another long-standing record on the horizon is Sam Snead's 82 PGA Tour wins -- a mark Woods now needs just one more title to match.

"I think he's particularly focused on Snead's record, which is a milestone in anyone's career," said McLaughlin, who also manages the World Golf Hall of Fame.

"That record I fully believe he will achieve. That's important to him as well because it shows a long career of success across several eras of golf.

"So I'm saying Snead's record for sure, and quite possibly Jack's record if he can remain healthy and he seems to be doing well with his health."

Although recovering his health was key to Woods's success after four back surgeries, McLaughlin felt it was just as important he was in a good space emotionally.

"He seems to be in a great place and I think he feeds off of the support of the crowds and the sponsors and he seems very happy in his life," he added.

Despite the abundance of talent in the professional game, McLaughlin said Woods, who he first met when he was a 13-year-old kid from Southern California, was a one of a kind.

"We will never see anything like that again in our lifetimes," he said.

"You are not going to see a dominating person with that much influence on the game."

Chip shots

  • Woods skipped his final practice round Wednesday, deciding to rest rather than play another nine holes ahead of Thursday's start. Woods, who has not played a competitive round since winning the Masters last month, has played only nine holes this week. He opted to focus primarily on practicing around the course, although his agent noted that Woods also played the course last week. "He's all good, just getting some rest," agent Mark Steinberg told ESPN in shooting down rumors that Woods may be dealing with an illness.
  • Francesco Molinari would be one of the favorites on a dry Bethpage Black, but heavy rains have left the Italian wondering whether he will be at a disadvantage. The soggy 7,459-yard, par-70 course is long enough at the best of times, and this week it will offer little roll once the ball hits the ground, thereby affording the power players an even bigger edge than usual.

  • Jordan Spieth says he is not wasting time thinking about completing the career grand slam as he begins a third bid to seal a full set of major titles at the PGA Championship. The 25-year-old American is not among the favorites at Bethpage Black this week given his recent form, but he feels the day will come when he completes his major collection. "Not much, honestly," he said when asked about how much time in his preparations he has spent contemplating the career grand slam.

  • Rory McIlroy said Tuesday that it is "more likely than not" he will play in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The 30-year-old Northern Irishman declined to play in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Field Level Media contributed to this report

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