The God's Given Lionel Messi - messilegend

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tiger Is Well-Positioned To Win His First Major of De Year

Can anyone catch Tiger if he's playing this well?

CHASKA, Minn. - At 1:14 on a steamy Thursday afternoon in the suburbs of the Twin Cities, Tiger Woods took the lead by himself at the 91th PGA Championship.

If this were a horse race, it might be an idea to put the binoculars down because there's never been a better front-runner.

"Kinda ominous," said Rich Beem, who watched Woods shoot an impressive five-under 67 at Hazeltine National.

"He's got a pretty good track record from the front."

Only once when Woods has started a major this well — at the British Open 11 years ago, when he was only 22 and still figuring out the vagaries of links golf — has he not gone on to lift the trophy.

In 2000, at both the U.S. Open and PGA, he began with six-under 66s and went on to win, while at the 2000 and '06 British Opens, he fired 67s and won those, too.

Woods isn't just in the driver's seat to have his name etched onto the Wanamaker Trophy for the record-tying fifth time, joining Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen. A win this week would reaffirm that he is back and at least as good as ever.

It wasn't just his score that separated Woods from the madding crowd Thursday.

This was a performance missing the smoke and mirrors of some of his low rounds this year.

It was a continuation of his last seven rounds — at the Buick Open and Bridgestone Invitational — where the ball striking has been steadily improving and the putting deadly.

"Just how efficient he played today," said Beem, who pipped Woods to the post here seven years ago. "It wasn't anything crazy. No big tee shots way right or way left or anything like that. It was easy."

Indeed, it was a round which could have been much lower had some putts not burned the edge of the cup.

"I played really well today," said Woods, "I hit just a bunch of good shots.

"And this round could have been really low. I missed a bunch of putts out there, so it was just a very positive start."

If there was something noticeably different about Woods Thursday it was his demeanor.

Whereas at the Masters he was perpetually grumpy and at the U.S. and British Opens his disposition was very serious, on this day he was relaxed and comfortable. Perhaps it was the company — he and Padraig Harrington talked and joked throughout the entire round — or perhaps the course which, frankly, is more like a typical Tour setup. It's probably easier than Firestone, where he won last week.

"The fairways are plenty wide here, plenty of room out there," he said.

Neither were the greens treacherous, probably because of all the rain this area's had this summer.

The wind did throw a wrench in things from time to time but Woods was only really bothered on the first hole — the tenth of his round — where he missed a long iron to the right, got a good break after his ball hit a tree, then proceeded to make a difficult up-and-down seem routine.

"I felt pretty comfortable," Woods said.

Not that he was awarding himself the tournament, but Woods' answer when he was asked if he's ever played as well as he could and still lost a major was revealing.

"There are times I've put it together and I've had some pretty good margins of victory," he said. "I just feel that overall my game over the years, it's gotten better and become more consistent."

"When I'm playing well, I usually don't make that many mistakes."

He said he couldn't afford to relax but instead needed to "just keep plodding along."

"The whole idea is not to make that many mistakes. All the majors that I've won, I've made very few mistakes for the week."

The only danger he found in this round was when the Spanish bomber Alvaro Quiros reached the massive par 5 11th in two while Woods was putting out.

Quiros later apologized to Woods.

"Nothing to apologize for," Woods joked. "I mean, that's just stupid long, isn't it? To hit it that far into the wind is phenomenal."

Woods joked that he once "used to be able to move the ball, not anymore."

"I just plod my way around, shoot 67," he said.

If there is a hope for an alternate ending to this championship, it's that Harrington, who is one shot behind Woods, looks like he's in the mood to continue their battle from the Bridgestone last Sunday.

Aside from the defending champion, it's hard to see any of the other names on the leaderboard having either the game or the chutzpah to deny Woods a 15th win at his 50th major.

But Harrington's got game and, without question, he's got the pugnaciousness of a boxer.

"The great thing is if you're playing with Tiger Woods, you're doing well," said the Irishman. "If you're playing with him at the end of the week, you're always going to be in contention. If you don't want to be in that spot, you shouldn't be playing golf.

"It's an opportunity. And I definitely would look forward to being paired up with him ... it's where you want to be."

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