Woods proves once again that majors are a different story
By Ron Sirak
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Exactly what has Tiger Woods proven over the last 17 months while piling up eight PGA Tour victories, including five this year? Not much, really, especially if he doesn't win this week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill CC. Actually, let's amend that. Tiger has proven this: There are five courses he can dominate; his weekend struggles at the majors are increasing not lessening; and success in tour events doesn't always carry over to majors.
Related: A victory at the PGA is far from a sure thing for Tiger Woods And while that may still be the case, his closing double bogey for a 71 in Thursday's first round of the PGA, leaving him six strokes off the lead on a rain-softened and receptive Oak Hill course, proved that Woods, while once again the best player in the world, is still not at his best. For a decade and a half, we have come to expect magic from Woods. And when he faced a tricky flop shot from the rough on No. 9 -- his last hole -- there was an expectation he would knock it stiff, tap in his putt and sign for a one-under-par 69. Instead, he caught the shot a little heavy, dumped it into the bunker, blasted to 10 feet and missed the putt to make double bogey. These days, it seems that when Tiger reaches into his hat he comes out without a rabbit. He has been especially hareless in the majors. "I drew no lie at all for my third shot," Woods said about his closing hole. "I was just trying to play 20 feet long and putt back and try to just get bogey. I didn't even get it over the bunker." There was a time when little things like bad lies didn't stop Tiger from making an up-and-down. But this is not that Tiger. So then what about the 15-under-par 265 he posted in winning the Bridgestone? Doesn't that count for something? And about what all that hardware he's added to his trophy case since last year's Arnold Palmer Invitational to get to 79 career wins? Well, as Bob Jones used to say: "There is golf and then there is tournament golf." Let's expand that to say: "There is tournament golf and then there is major championship golf." The lyrical efforts that Woods has been able to compose in PGA Tour events of late are just not translating to the majors. And kicking away two strokes on the final hole Thursday does not foreshadow well since it's been Thursday and Friday in the majors he has handled well during his 0-for-15 major drought. Let's go back to those eight wins over the last 17 months. Of those, six have been on the five courses where he has 33 of his 79 victories. Tiger has won eight times each at Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Firestone CC. He has also taken home the trophy five times at Muirfield Village and on four occasions at Doral. OK, there are horses for courses and Woods has his. Nothing wrong with that. You win where you can win. It's like how great baseball teams dominate the bad teams and break even with the good ones. What's more problematic are his weekend struggles at the majors.
Related: Five repetitive things people are saying about the PGA Its origin is not where most people think. While Woods was pulled into a vortex of injury and insult, his actual decline began before a fire hydrant became a meaningful symbol in his life. It was at this tournament four years ago that Y.E. Yang turned in a performance that may very well solidify his legacy as the Buster Douglas of golf. As Douglas did to the once-invincible Mike Tyson when he beat him as a 42-to-1 underdog in Japan, Yang stripped away the aura of invincibility around Woods at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Woods had been 14-for-14 with at least a share of the final-round lead in the majors until then. But since that Sunday surprise against Yang, in which Woods shot 75, Tiger has broken 70 in a weekend round at a major only three times in 26 tries -- or 11.5 percent -- and not at all in his last seven majors. In the 94 weekend rounds Woods played in majors as a professional before he was Yanged, Tiger broke 70 a total of 39 times -- or 41.5 percent. That's a huge difference. And when Woods was the full Tiger from 2000 through 2007, he was 30 for 54 in breaking 70 on the weekends -- 55.5 percent. "I'm still right there," Woods said after his disappointing finish to a round in which he, Keegan Bradley and Davis Love III were put on the clock for slow play for four holes. "I'm only six back and we have a long way to go."
Related: Tiger puts on energy bar eating display at Oak Hill While that is all true, this is also true: One of the oddities of Woods' career has been that he has never won a major coming from behind on Sunday. Given that and his problem breaking 70 on the weekends, it seems like a good idea for him to post a significantly red number in Friday's second round. There is a feeling among many, if not most, that once Woods turns this ship around he will start winning majors in bunches once again. But ships do not turn easily or quickly. And with his 38th birthday looming in December, the five majors he needs to break the Nicklaus record of 18 seems more daunting with each opportunity lost. On Friday, Tiger will try to position himself for a weekend run at the PGA Championship. If recent form holds, he better not leave himself in too much of a hole. If there is a rabbit hidden in that hat, this would be a good time to pull it out.