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Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 14, 2019 in Bethpage, N.Y.

Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during a practice round prior to the 2019 PGA Championship at the Bethpage Black course on May 14, 2019 in Bethpage, N.Y. (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images/TNS)

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - The vibe is different from the time he walks into the room.

News conferences with Tiger Woods through the years, and particularly at major championships, were stubborn contests of will. How many ways could reporters ask a similar question, only to get the same terse, rote answer?

It was as if Woods could write volumes of insight into golf and himself, but chose to make a few scribbles on Post-it Notes.

Then came last fall's victory in the Tour Championship, followed by April's improbable triumph in the Masters. As Woods pulled on the green jacket at Augusta, it was as if he shed the remains of a mask he'd worn for a couple decades.

"I think," Irishman Padraig Harrington said Tuesday, "he's more comfortable with who he is at the moment."

On the heels of Harrington's morning news conference for this week's 101st PGA Championship at Bethpage Black, Woods arrived, smiling and relaxed, in his first media appearance since winning the Masters a month ago and earning his 15th major title.

Start with the fact he responded three times with "great question" - which might be a record - and Woods continues to seem more affable and approachable.

He didn't hesitate or seem chafed by a query regarding a lawsuit filed Monday against him over the death of an employee from his Florida restaurant, and Woods had no problem taking the needle to 1991 PGA winner John Daly, who successfully secured the use a cart this week on a course that is walking-only, even for the public.

"I walked with a broken leg, so ..." Woods said with a grin, referring to his victory in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Woods, 43, has every reason to be happy after the Masters capped a comeback in which he missed playing in eight straight majors due to back surgeries in 2016-17 and went winless for more than five years on the PGA Tour.

Now, there is fresh speculation about his chances for catching Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors won, while Woods has been installed as the tri-favorite this week - at 10-1 with defending PGA champion Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson - on a Bethpage layout that was the site of his 2002 U.S. Open victory.

"It's great to be a part of the narrative," Woods said. "My narrative spans 20 years now ...

"If you look at most of the players that have had the most success on tour, you're not measured by, like, an NFL football player when you get in the Hall of Fame after nine years. If you played out here nine years, you haven't really done that well. You're measured in decades. Arnold Palmer played in 50 straight Masters. It's just done differently."

This PGA marks the 20th for Woods, who has lifted the hefty Wanamaker Trophy four times, the last when he went back-to-back with victories at Medinah and Southern Hills in 2006-07.

Woods' fellow players are still marveling at what he accomplished at Augusta, staving off a handful of the world's best on the back nine on Sunday.

"I still don't think people understand what he did in April," Rory McIlroy said Tuesday. "With everything that he's been through, it's unbelievable."

Like Harrington, McIlroy also has seen a change in disposition for Woods.

"I think because of that he's grateful for the position he's in," McIlroy, 30, said. "I think he's grateful and thankful that his kids get to see a little bit of what he was before they were around.

"So I think - it is different. He's a different person. He's in a different space in his life, and yeah, he just seems very grateful for this opportunity to do what he loves and compete.

"I think when you're in that head space where you're just thankful to be out there, good things happen, and good things have started to happen for him."

Woods spent his post-Masters time celebrating with family, and there was the recent visit to the White House to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. At home, Woods said he has worked mostly on his short game, keeping full swings to a minimum until the most recent buildup.

He didn't get another start in before the PGA because, he said, "I wasn't mentally prepared to log in the hours."

In that statement alone is proof Woods no longer needs to be viewed as an unyielding machine.

Harrington perceptively saw that approach in the way Woods played the back nine at Augusta in the fourth round. The three-time major champion and 2020 European Ryder Cup captain noted Woods resisted trying to power draws and instead faded the ball for better positioning.

"He wasn't interested in proving to the world that he's a good driver of the ball or anything like that," Harrington said. "I think he just was interested in getting the job done. That's a tough Tiger to beat when he's in that frame of mind."

Woods enters the tournament sounding confident in his physical condition while acknowledging that Bethpage is among the toughest walks in majors - the slog made harder by recent heavy rains. He concurs with others who insist he will need to drive the ball accurately to contend.

"Fairways are plenty wide because it's wet," Woods said. "It's just you've got to hit it not only straight, but you've got to hit it far. ... The majority of the greens are elevated, and so trying to get enough spin, hitting the ball up to elevation with the greens firming up, you have to be in the fairway to do that."

Away from golf, Woods was hit with a wrongful death civil lawsuit Monday that alleges he and his girlfriend, Erica Herman - listed as the general manager of The Woods restaurant in Jupiter, Fla. - contributed to the death of 24-year-old Nicholas Immesberger.

Immesberger worked as a bartender at the restaurant owned by Woods, and his family alleges he was overserved alcohol there before dying in a drunk-driving accident Dec. 10. The lawsuit alleges Woods and Herman drank heavily with Immesberger several nights before the accident.

In his first public statement on the matter Tuesday, Woods said, "We're all very sad that Nick passed away. It was a terrible night, a terrible ending. And we feel bad for him and his entire family. It's very sad."

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