It is a given that five years is a long wait for a Major – more so if you are Tiger Woods. And when you see him posting those staggering performances on the tour and piling up five different pieces of silverware already in the season, it’s a pardonable offence to predict him winning big on the eve of every Major tourney.
Tiger again, this time at Firestone, was playing as close as anyone could get to being impeccably consistent on a golf course. And it was furthermore startling to watch his son Charlie with him for the final day’s play; it almost made the onlookers believe it was a practice round on his own backyard.
In fact, it did look like an exhibition fest after two days of golf when all that remained for contention in the tournament was the second place. For Woods, the battle gradually converged from a lot of 100 to eventually his own set of par scores he mapped ahead of the PGA Championship.
Woods, for the large part of the past two decades, has been setting markers for the rest of the field. Yet, when someone like Keegan Bradley admits that Woods is playing a ‘tournament within a tournament’, you know the field has already given in against the dominating strides on the course from the World No. 1.
‘Winning’, as Tiger once said, would always help him keep the scores. Yet, a 7-stroke romp on the park on a Sunday evening did just enough to bring those familiar fist-pumps back on the front-covers of the newspapers.
The message is loud and clear – Tiger is bringing his untenable game to the Oak Hill centre stage.
But how good are his chances besides being the not-so-surprising-favourite of the bookies at the PGA Championship? How does he plan to beat the top 100 of the world on the Oak Hill’s ponderous set of green that has never seen him triumph?
Also, the dilemma he faces of accepting the fact that a season without a Major in his bag, even after his best season on his return, does leave a sinking feeling. He might not admit it, yet if it he was asked to trade his five PGA titles for Mickelson’s Open win, Tiger wouldn’t think twice before choosing the latter.
As this weekend remains his last hope to secure the ever-so-elusive No. 15 and reinvigorate his run-in for Nicklaus’s crown, it is undeniably inexplicable to figure Wood’s psych at this very moment.
Having said that, with the statisticians and historians who point to difficult scoring conditions and the tournament’s tricky trait of presenting the most unfancied champions over the years, a win for Woods will require something of an inhuman effort.
On the scoring front, of the six Majors seen at the Oak Hill, only 10 players have finished with a below par score. This includes Nicklaus’s win in 1980 on this same Rochester setup when he was the only golfer with a sub-par total.
Moreover, the likes of Shaun Micheel, Ye Yang and Rich Beem – a list that may have done little else (in fact just 18 pro wins among themselves) throughout their careers, have a PGA Championship feather to boast on their caps.
Tiger, on the other hand, has a lot to prove on this course that is anything but similar to his trademark stomping grounds. Achieving pars on the back-9 remains a challenge, especially in countering the ever-so-tormenting slopes. And by the looks of it, one still cannot put one’s money on Woods’ vulnerable putting performances.
Woods himself is wary of the situation. “Oak Hill is going to be a course where we’re going to have to make a lot of pars, there’s no doubt. If you have an opportunity to make a birdie, you’d better because there aren’t a whole lot of opportunities to make them. There are a few holes that you can be aggressive on and maybe a few pin locations that if you have the right situation you can be pretty aggressive to it, but otherwise it’s going to be a tough course,” he said.
Yet when it comes down to teeing off on Thursday, Tiger would want to give it a realistic shot. If Big Phil could seal the Open on the back of a win at the Scottish Open on the tournament eve, Woods does have more than enough striking craft to take with him the Championship.
While he may have a tendency to portray otherwise, Woods may not yet be ready to accept the virtue of winning as a mere symbolic crown. Not until he passes Nicklaus; not until he at least ends this barren run of collecting mere consolations on the tour.
And in a career nurtured, thrived and conjured on the ambitions engulfed with greed of limitless silverware, the quest for No. 15 – ignored or forsaken momentarily – does hold its importance until he finally gets his hands on it.