PGA ChampionshipAugust 13, 2009

Runaway Train?

With Tiger Woods' name already at the top of the leader board, Tim Rosaforte wonders if anyone can hang with him over the long haul

Is Tiger Woods so good with the lead because he plays better or because he forces his competition into mistakes?

Is Tiger Woods so good with the lead because he plays better or because he forces his competition into mistakes?

CHASKA, Minn. -- A ROARING START was the headline greeting the Minneapolis-St. Paul readers of Friday morning's Star-Tribune. You don't need to know golf to know what that means.

It's over. Game, set, golf tournament. Somewhere in a back room at Hazeltine National, the engraver is practicing his TIGER WOODS for the Wanamaker Trophy.

Historians will note the track record after Tiger gets off to a good start in a major. The 67 he put on the board in the opening round of the 91st PGA may only separate him from the field by one stroke, but even if the field is being led by defending champion Padraig Harrington, they can put this puppy to bed.

Or can they?

"Whatever you guys might want to think, it really doesn't throw fear into many of us, I don't think, on the first tee," said Geoff Ogilvy.

"You know, he's human," said Robert Allenby, who is two strokes back. "And the golf course is in front of all of us. It's all to be had. And obviously he's the best in the world so we expect him to win, because he's the best. He should. But you know what, it's three more days to go. And a lot can happen. A lot of golf to be played. And there's a lot of things that can happen."

Like what?

Like Pebble Beach in 2000, when Woods opened with a 65 and won by 15 strokes? Or Southern Hills in 2007, when Tiger shot 63 in the second round, went to his four-corner offense, and let everyone make their mistakes behind him?

The X Factor could be Harrington, who went shot-for-shot for the second-straight round and has moved past the slow-play driven snowman he made on the 16th hole Sunday at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. But even Harrington found himself being a spectator at times on Thursday and afterward was revealing in his mindset going forward.

"I think there's a factor about the fact that Tiger is five-under par and looks like he's playing well and looks like he could move away and the key will be obviously if he's moving away to make sure I'm moving away with him," Harrington said.

The Irishman had a three-stroke lead going into the final round at Firestone, rallied after Tiger's front-nine 30, and then had the one bad hole. Referring back to Sunday, he said, "But me getting a three shot start. I don't want to give him a three shot start on Sunday."

How about one shot on Friday morning, with the wind expected to kick up? There is the Woods aura, and then there is the Woods game, which at present appears to be spot on. "I feel pretty comfortable if I'm playing well," he said. "No doubt. There are times I've put it together and I've had some pretty good margins of victory. I just feel that overall my game over the years, it's gotten better and become more consistent.

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

Bingo. There's the key. Woods rarely beats himself, so knowing that, players push harder to make something happen, and when they do, it usually backfires. Especially on a par-72 course where Woods can dominate the four par-5s.

Harrington seems to be the only player in the world with the game and the mental strength to hang. "I think it pushes you," he said. "You have to go to a new level. I think it pushes you on and that's what I like. There's no point in being cautious or playing safe and I can get caught very much at times in the middle. You either go for it -- you either play well or you don't is my attitude and Tiger brings that out. He pushes you a little bit more, and you know, you have to go for your shots if you want to compete."

How many really want to compete with Woods and how many of those have the game to sustain the golf, the galleries and the game's history? He is in position for his 15th major, his 71st career victory, and another layer of invincibility.

"If he wins, he wins. Fantastic," Allenby said. "I think it's great for the sport anyway. But I know I'll be trying to do my best to try and finish as low as I can by Sunday. And we'll just see what happens. He's the best in the world, but there's a lot of good golfers behind him."

That usually is the case.