Tiger Woods: A Simple Little Tuneup for the PGA Championship

Almost every player who was in this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone is in next week’s PGA Championship. All of them very much were looking forward to the strong test Firestone offered as a gateway to the year’s last major tournament. And for each of them, they got the test they bargained for…except for one guy.

In a simply masterful performance, Tiger Wood’s shot a 9-under 61 on Friday to separate himself from the field…by seven shots.

And then on Saturday, a more difficult day with blustery winds, he shot 2-under when everyone else who was close did too. And he went to bed that night still sitting on a seven-shot lead.  

With the winds up again on Sunday, what that meant was that all he had to do was make a bunch of pars; nobody was going to shoot 61 to catch him:

Yeah, today was a day with it being as blustery as it was, it was going to be really hard for someone to shoot 62 or 63.  If I didn’t give any shots away today and played my game and shot even par or better, I’d have to force these guys to go and shoot something super low on a golf course that wasn’t going to give it up under these conditions.

I thought that if I just handled my business and just made a bunch of pars and sprinkled in a few birdies here and there, if I had an opportunity, but not drop any shots — the only shot I dropped was I three‑putted, I blew a putt past and missed it.  But overall it was a solid day.  I played well and played conservative but also played very aggressive to my spots.

Anybody would have done the same thing; why give away a treasure trove of birdies just to make a more emphatic statement? One of the side effects of Tiger’s sensible strategy was, compared to his more normal rounds, it was deathly quiet. Except for the moron who kept yelling “Baba booey!!” after each shot. Yet another example of how the Howard Stern radio show has added so much to American culture. But I digress.

The first rise Tiger got out of the gallery was his lone birdie on 10. But it went quiet again soon after and even more so after the give-back bogey on 14; it was a complicated 3-putt caused by speed and hump issues on the first putt.

But, no matter. It was a round that prepared him perfectly for Oak Hill next week in Rochester, New York. His view of it was the most comprehensive preview I’ve seen as to what the boys are in for:

You know what, Oak Hill is going to be a golf 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 golf course.

The rough was already up when I played it on Tuesday.  It was already up then.  It has another week of getting thicker and more lush.  And I don’t know what they’re going to top that out at by game time come Thursday, but I think that it’ll be a very, very difficult championship.

I forgot what the winning score was, maybe just a few under par when Shaun [Micheel won in 2003], but it was playing hard, and I think it may be playing even harder this year.

[Note: Shaun Micheel was -4, Chad Campbell was -2 and Tim Clark was -1, the only players to break par for the week.]

And so the guy who had little trouble with Firestone is going to get a little R&R with just a little light work until Wednesday:

I’m just going to take it easy for probably the next day or so and do very light work, make sure that my mind and body are fresh for Wednesday and Thursday.  I think those are — Wednesday is an important day to get refined, and especially playing the week before. I don’t normally play the week before a major championship.  I’m going to take it easy on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday is an important day.  Make sure my lines are nice and good and clean and feel ready come Thursday.

Henrik Stenson tied with Keegan Bradley as the top finishers not named Tiger Woods. Tiger finished at 15-under and they worked their fingers to the nubs to finish at 8-under. Make no mistake; it was not easy. Stenson kept his head above water with a bogey and a birdie and was generally upbeat for a guy not named Tiger Woods:

Yeah, very pleased with the week.  It was obviously nothing to do against Tiger playing the way he did.  He kind of punctured this tournament on Friday for sure.  He did what he needed to do today, and I’m pleased with the way I played.

Bradley was no less complementary:

It was a really weird feeling because it was like a tournament within a tournament, I felt like.  Coming in second alone is a big accomplishment considering Tiger had such a big lead. [He apparently gave this interview before Stenson caught him with a birdie on 17.]

You know, I got to play with Tiger yesterday.  He’s playing very well.  It’s very tough to give Tiger that many shots.  The round he shot on Friday was pretty special.  You know, I hate to sit here and go on and on about how good he is, but he is.  It’s difficult because I really want to get up there and contend with him, but he’s just — this week he’s playing really well.

If nothing changes in Tiger’s game between now and Thursday, the PGA field has one small glimmer of hope. As Tiger says, he normally doesn’t play the week before a major and this week at Firestone is a great example of why. What he did this week — particularly on Friday and to a slightly lesser extent on the weekend — is operate at a level of intensity that is positively sapping.

As I’ve shared before, early in my limited general aviation experiences, I flew my wife from Miami to Fort Myers to a hotel strip in the middle of the Everglades and back again for two meetings. The level of concentration required to stay on top of everything minute-by-minute was so consuming that as soon as we got home, I took a nap. I don’t take naps.

So if Tiger can decompress enough Sunday night, Monday and Tuesday and then light the pilot light again on Wednesday, he might be in good enough shape to get the pot boiling again. That’s what’s so great about the game. Even with the greatness that is Tiger Woods, you just never know.

I know I’ll be watching. And guess what? He’s paired with Keegan Bradley again along with Davis Love III.

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