Tiger Woods didn't just win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He absolutely dominated it.
As a result, expectations for the world’s top-ranked golfer heading to this week’s PGA Championship are at an all-time high, and any explanation for struggling at Oak Hill Country Club couldn't be any thinner.
Woods was an absolute maestro this week at Firestone Country Club, blowing away the field by seven shots to win the event for an unprecedented eighth time.
He shot his lowest round since 2005 with a scintillating second-round 61. He was a sniper with his irons, a magician with his short game and absolutely dialed in with his putter.
The end result was Tiger’s 79th PGA Tour win, his 18th World Golf Championship triumph and his fifth victory of a season that has announced his comeback with authority.
More importantly, Tiger’s Bridgestone brilliance provides the greatest promise for a first major breakthrough in more than five years at Oak Hill this week. There are no injuries, gaps in his game or rust to worry about.
No, if Tiger doesn't put it all together at the PGA Championship the way he did at Firestone this past weekend, there will be no excuses and nothing to point to other than the image looking back at him in the mirror.
Woods has been the favorite in just about every major championship he has played in since he last won at the 2008 U.S. Open. Yet by and large, that designation has been in name or reputation only and has ignored warning signs that contradicted promise of victory.
In fact, especially this year, there’s been reason to doubt the state of Tiger's game, confidence and even physical condition before the start of golf’s biggest events.
Before his start at the U.S. Open almost two months ago, Woods was battling a bad elbow and was coming off a disastrous Memorial Tournament several weeks before. He went on to shoot 13-over and finish in a tie for 32nd—his worst-ever four-round performance in a major championship.
Because of that elbow strain, Tiger didn't play at all between the U.S Open and the British Open. At Murifield, he faltered down the stretch after a solid 36-hole start to the major championship.
Even though he had won three times on the PGA Tour prior to The Masters, there were questions about Tiger’s confidence in majors heading into Augusta. There were even more concerns after a bad drop in the second round almost resulted in a disqualification and essentially snuffed out his chances for a fifth green jacket.
After his dominance at Firestone, however, there are no doubts, no questions and no reasons Woods shouldn't play well at Oak Hill starting this Thursday.
In fact, his 15-under Bridgestone symphony had all the makings of a major-quality performance on a layout that is significantly similar to the one Woods will tackle this week in an effort to win a fifth Wanamaker trophy.
During Friday’s near-historic play, he made several key par saves to maintain his momentum. On the weekend, he executed a solid game plan to keep the field at arm’s length.
By and large, he avoided trouble off the tee the entire tournament, and when he did get sloppy, he managed to minimize or eliminate damage with a solid short game and a hot putter.
Basically, Tiger’s Bridgestone performance was a replica of his major championship blueprint for success he’s executed 14 times during his stellar career. If he duplicates it at Oak Hill this week, he will be rewarded with his elusive 15th major.
Woods can’t prevent another golfer from going crazy low at Oak Hill any more than the rest of the field could slow him down at Firestone this past weekend. Not even Tiger can play defense in majors.
That said, there shouldn't be anything preventing Woods from taking care of his own business at the PGA Championship this week. His form is solid, his mind seems right and his body is in good stead.
If another golfer goes out and takes the PGA Championship from, him then so be it. Yet if Tiger plays at Oak Hill the way he did at Firestone, then his chase of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 career majors is back with a full court press.
If he fails yet again, however, the excuses are all dried up. So too would be the momentum Woods has created in what would otherwise have been a career year.
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