Yes, he is back and seemingly roaring again like the Tiger of old. Tiger Woods, fresh from his seven-shot victory at the Bridgestone Invitational at the weekend, bids to end his five-year major drought at the USPGA Championship starting today at Oak Hill.
However, the last time the PGA was held at the famous oak tree course in New York back in 2003, Woods fired a round of 12 over par, his second worst 72 hole score in a major (only his score in this year’s US Open of 13 over is higher).
Tiger described the course in 2003 as “the hardest, fairest golf course we have ever played.”
That is fair comment indeed for a course that can be very unforgiving with some 75,000 trees around the fairways. Scrambling will not be as manageable as it was for the Tiger at Firestone, the venue of last week’s Invitational.
So what is the key to posting a low round score at Oak Hill? Quite simply, the winning golfer come Sunday will be the one who has hit the ball consistently long and straight off the tee, in order to have set up a mid- to a short-range iron onto the green. Anything errant left or right will spell danger.
Despite the size of the margin of victory for Woods at Firestone, there were times, particularly in his third round, when he was all over the place off the tee. It was his extraordinary abilities of recovery that made the difference.
I am not convinced that the East course at Oak Hill will suit Tiger’s current game. Many of the holes require a driver rather than a long iron for the tee shot, with the view to clearing the strategically placed bunkers.
With Tiger still not 100 per cent as straight as an arrow with the big club, I feel that this may leave him with potentially an impossible second on a couple of the holes. The first, for example, a 460-yard (420-metre) par 4 has an out of bounds to the right, close to the fairway. A long straight drive on this hole will set up an easy second onto the green.
The fifth is the hardest hole on the course – a 428-yard par 4. The drive must travel through a shoot of trees for over 215 yards and avoid a creek that is conveniently located by the likely landing area. I anticipate that this hole will wreak havoc.
Another good drive is essential on the 461-yard par 4 seventh, where the fairway width is only 22 yards.
There are huge deep bunkers on the eighth just where you do not want them to be, and the ninth houses the infamous “Death Valley.” Then there is the back nine!
Enter Lee Westwood on the East Course to woo Woods.
Lee led the British Open three weeks ago, until famously doing his dying swan act up the home straight. He fell apart playing the kind of shot that he is unlikely to need to play here.
Westwood is regarded as being one of the straightest hitters on the tour and must have a chance of landing his first major.
Then there is of course the Open Champion himself, Phil Mickelson. “Lefty” was not at his best last weekend. However, I believe that was party down to the emotional euphoria of winning the Claret Jug.
He tees off at 1:45am Cambodian time tonight in an incredible threesome that features all three of this year’s major winners – Adam Scott and Justin Rose being his two companions.
Scott has been thereabouts all year and is another who is likely to feature prominently come Sunday. Woods is the red-hot favourite at around 7/2, though I am prepared to take him on, believing that there is better value at the odds elsewhere, with even perhaps Poulter at 55/1.
Bob Morton is a British journalist now based in Singapore. He has a first class degree in media and was previously a correspondent for Ladbrokes Racing.