By John Strege
The state of Tiger Woods' game on the eve of another major championship brings to mind a radio broadcast of a spring training game on an overcast day in Florida years ago. "The weatherman says there's a 50-50 chance of rain," the broadcaster said, "and he could be right." Indeed.
In the same vein, we're willing to make this prediction, with a similar degree of certainty: Tiger will win or lose the PGA Championship that begins Thursday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.
Seriously, what to make of his lapping the field in the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club on Sunday, his fifth victory of the season, the 79th of his career? That he has one hand on the Wanamaker Trophy?
"Tiger blowing away the field at Firestone! WARNING: Oak Hills is a lot like Firestone," Paul Azinger wrote on Twitter.
"In the Jigger Inn watching Bridgestone, best Tiger has looked since 2009 Bridgestone," Golf Channel's Brandel Chamblee Tweeted from the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews. "Dominate blow out win will set up more majors."
Will it? Tiger could win in the dark at Firestone Country Club, as he in fact once did. Woods at Firestone is as close to a sure bet as golf is willing to provide.
Woods' margin of victory was seven strokes, which indicates more than a comfort zone at work. "By the way, Tiger is from another planet. Just in case you haven't noticed," Spanish golfer Gonzalo Fdez-Castano said after Woods flirted with 59 and settled for 61 in the second round on Friday.
Yet he hasn't been otherworldly in major championships in five years, whatever the state of his game going in. He won his two starts prior to the Masters this year and tied for fourth.
Even the course setup at Oak Hill reveals little by way of prognostication. "The fairways are 16 to 26 yards wide, as the members also play it, so they don't narrow it down," Oak Hill's long-time pro Craig Harmon said Sunday. "For the first time, we have the graduated rough concept -- the first cut of rough, which is like somebody's fairway, the second cut at 2 1/2 inches, then four inches. The rough is abnormally thick. Even in the 2 1/2-inch rough, the ball goes down to the bottom of it.
"There are great driving holes. You have to shape it right to left or left to right. It's really a cool driving course. Most of these players won't use driver more than half the time. That would be my estimate. There's no reason to try to make birdie on the first shot."
So, narrow fairways and gnarly rough would disfavor Woods, who, as Chamblee recently described him, is the best 13-club player in the world. It's the 14th club that causes him trouble. Then again, the opportunity to check the driver at the tee on several holes, as Harmon notes, tends to favor him.
Put it together and, to paraphrase the broadcaster, we conclude that Tiger has a 50-50 chance of winning. And we could be right.