Tiger Woods proved last week at the PGA Championship that a major victory is around the corner. And the 2019 schedule stacks up perfectly for him to notch the 15th of his career by this time next year.
Woods shot a 6-under 64 Sunday at Bellerive Country Club to finish alone in second, two shots behind winner Brooks Koepka. Had it not been for an ill-timed tee shot on the back nine, a barely missed putt on the front nine, and some scattered mistakes the first three days, this could've been a vastly different week in golf history.
Bellerive wasn't supposed to favor the 2018 version of Woods' game. He's 175th on the PGA Tour in driving accuracy and 119th in putting, and this course was set up for someone to hit drivers all week and roll in as many putts as possible (which is exactly what Koepka did).
But he flipped the script and did (almost) everything right - just a month after holding a piece of the lead at the Open Championship at Carnoustie, which played completely opposite to Bellerive.
The fact that Woods was competitive at two very different major championship venues bodes well for 2019, when he'll return to three courses where he has enjoyed overwhelming success.
Woods will be 43 by the time next year's Masters rolls around, but he has an advanced degree in playing Augusta National. Any renovation that golf course has undergone in the past two decades has been because of Woods. If he can keep things as tight as he did last week, he'll continue to be a threat at the Masters for years to come.
Next year's PGA Championship will move to May, making it the second major of the year. It'll take place at Bethpage Black Course on Long Island, where Woods captured the 2002 U.S. Open and finished tied for sixth at the 2009 U.S. Open. When Bethpage is set up for a major, he performs.
Next up, Woods will play the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. All he did there was win the 2000 edition by 15 shots. And had it not been for a Sunday 75 in 2010, he might have won that U.S. Open, too (he ended up tied for fourth, just three shots back of champion Graeme McDowell).
The Open Championship at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland will be a bit of a question mark, as he's never played that course in competition. And while he had never played Bellerive, either, links golf has a steeper learning curve than the bomb-it-and-find-it course setup in Missouri.
The good thing is that Woods has won three Open Championships, and has more than 20 years of experience playing links golf, which he enjoys more than any other kind, as he's able to shape shots and play more on the ground than in the air.
The fact that there are three majors before the halfway point in the calendar year can only be beneficial for Woods, who admitted he spent plenty of time in an ice bath before the PGA Championship battling inflammation that was "everywhere." He can get them out of the way before his body potentially starts to wear down.
The season will be condensed, meaning more key tournaments earlier on, but Woods can prioritize the majors in hopes of peaking at the right time - as opposed to his approach this year, when he was still adjusting to his new swing late in the season.
The fact that just over a year ago Woods wasn't even cleared to hit chip shots makes his accomplishments this season even more spectacular. Only a missed 7-footer on No. 18 at the Open Championship prevented him from runner-up finishes at both of the final two majors.
We'll never see the Tiger Woods of old again, but this version is ready to compete. He showed it repeatedly this year on the biggest stages. And it shouldn't come as a surprise if he adds to his already legendary major victory total next year.
Adam Stanley has written about golf since 2011 for PGATOUR.com, LPGA.com, and the Canadian Press, among other organizations. He's also a frequent contributor to The Globe and Mail. Find him on Twitter @adam_stanley.
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)