Never ask Tiger Woods a yes-no question. He’ll fire right at the flag stick, taking the easiest possible route out of answering.
Asked if he could win this week at the PGA Championship, Woods simply smiled and said, “Of course.” No further comment.
He’s not wrong. He could win this week. The miracle at Augusta last year proved he’s still got the game to win if everything breaks the right way. But will he win this week? That’s a much tougher question.
“I feel good,” Woods said at his standard Tuesday pre-tournament press conference. “Obviously I haven't played much competitively, but I've been playing a lot at home. So I've been getting plenty of reps that way. Just trying to get my way back into this part of the season. This is what I've been gearing up for. We've got a lot of big events starting from here, so looking forward to it. This is going to be a fun test for all of us.”
That, too, is classic Woods: project optimism and confidence at every turn, boil immense challenges down to cheery adjectives like “fun.”
With the exception of a victory at the Zozo Championship back in October — yes, that was part of the current PGA Tour season — Woods has largely struggled this season. If you put aside The Match 2.0, where Woods and Peyton Manning knocked off Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady, Woods has little to build on in 2020. His lone post-quarantine tournament, the Memorial, ended in a forgettable T40.
“I haven't played that much, but ... the results that I've seen at home, very enthusiastic about some of the changes I've made and so that's been positive,” Woods said. “Keep building, keep getting ready, and be ready come Thursday.” (Naturally, he declined to say what changes he’s made.)
Woods is at a point in his career where he neither needs to justify his performance nor make excuses for his play. He was a dead-bang Hall of Famer nearly two decades ago, and his remarkable 2019, and everything that’s come after his latest round of back surgery, is just an unexpected bonus for both him and his legions of fans.
That said -- he’s not scaring anyone anymore. The younger generation of players admires Woods, respects him, but they’re in no way intimidated by him. Where players of Woods’ generation and older stepped back, Justin Thomas leans in with trash-talking. Where Woods’ rivals quailed when he climbed the leaderboard, Brooks Koepka steps up and swings back harder. If Woods is going to win another major, he’ll earn it in a way he never had to before.
“This is a big run for us coming up here,” Woods said. “I've been gearing up for this, and looking forward to the challenges of not only this week, but obviously the Playoffs and a U.S. Open and then the Masters.
One notable difference between this year and all the other dozens of majors Woods has played in his career: no fans. For a player who surfs the wave of the gallery, it will be a different experience. Woods got his first taste of it at the Memorial, and found it strange, to say the least.
“It reminded me of sometimes on the weekend, you'd tee off Saturday morning and you'd just barely make the cut and you're first off and there's no one out there, but generally by the time you make the back nine, there's thousands of people out there on the golf course waiting for the leaders to tee off,” he said. “That's the new world we live in. We just have to get used to it.”
There’s a definite benefit, though: “It’s different than most of the times when you go from green-to-tee, people yelling or trying to touch you. That part is different.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him with tips and story ideas at email@example.com.
More from Yahoo Sports: