- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Golf writer Barker Davis of The Washington Times looks at the five players most likely to spoil Tiger Woods’ bid for a major trifecta at this week’s 87th PGA Championship. Woods has already collected a green jacket and a claret jug this season and rolls into Baltusrol in the midst of a torrid five-tournament run (T3-2-2-Win-T2). When action begins today on the Lower Course’s 7,392-yard, par-70 layout, Woods will tee off as the most prohibitive favorite (2-1) in the history of major championship golf.

VIJAY SINGH (6-1)

Fear: The only other member of the Big Five (aside from Woods) who has lived up to his billing this season. Singh’s four tour victories match Woods’, and his scoring average (69.14) is second only to Woods (68.82). He stared down Woods head-to-head two weeks ago at the Buick Open, carding a 63 to Woods’ 70 in their Saturday showdown. The Fijian is the defending PGA champion, and the same massive length and high ball flight that earned him the Wanamaker Trophy at Whistling Straits should serve him well at Baltusrol.

Jeer: Despite three top-10 finishes in the majors, Singh hasn’t been a serious contender in any of the season’s Slams. Fact is, he still can’t putt, and you never know what short stick or stroke he’ll bring to the first tee — left-hand-low or conventional grip, belly, long or standard shaft? We just don’t believe in his blade.

PHIL MICKELSON (14-1)

Fear: The exquisite length and touch that produced three early-season victories. At his best, Lefty is every bit as explosive as Woods, and Baltusrol’s softened version of a U.S. Open layout should play to his strengths while de-emphasizing his occasional wildness off the tee.

Jeer: Mickelson has done absolutely nothing since the BellSouth Classic in April. He has spent more time than ever this season preparing for the majors alongside short game guru Dave Pelz and swing coach Rick Smith, but his results in the majors (10-T33-T60) have mocked that hard work. Like Ernie Els, Mickelson has been an utter Big Five flop, and it’s hard to see that changing this late in the season.

SERGIO GARCIA (25-1)

Fear: The Spaniard has carded eight top-10 finishes in the last 15 majors and once again finds himself near the top of the PGA Tour heap in greens in regulation (fourth). Only Singh can claim to be a better tee-to-green player than Garcia, and the Spaniard has a deeper arsenal of shots. His breakout major came six years ago at the PGA at Medinah, where as a 19-year-old he famously pushed Woods to the brink, and nobody on tour openly shrugs off Woods’ greatness with such regularity.

Jeer: In his near-misses at the U.S. Open (T3) and British Open (T5) this season, the 25-year-old Garcia continued his career-long struggle with the short stick on medium-range putts (8-15 feet). He might be the only player on the planet better from 25 feet than 12 feet. He needs to sort that out soon, because the psychological scar tissue builds with each passing major.

ADAM SCOTT (33-1)

Fear: The 25-year-old Scott is a tee-to-green maven still learning how to play in majors, but he’s taken a serious step forward by finishing in the top 35 in each of the first three for the first time in his career, which entering the season had been disconcertingly dotted with missed cuts in Slam starts. He’s gradually closing in on expected greatness, and serious contention in a major is the next logical step.

Jeer: It’s certainly strange that a player with nine victories on the PGA (four) and European (five) tours over the past four years has never finished better than ninth in 18 major starts. Perhaps there’s simply a Slam synapse missing.

KENNY PERRY (33-1)

Fear: The best driver of the ball in golf has the ideal game for Baltusrol with his impressive combination of mortar-style trajectory, sneaky length and Funkesque accuracy. Six of his nine PGA Tour victories (two this season) have come during a late-career renaissance that began in 2001. At 45, he doesn’t have many chances left, but in many respects, Perry has the prototypical resume of a PGA winner: an undecorated fringe star who collects his only major win at the least prestigious Slam. (See Bob Tway, Jeff Sluman, Wayne Grady, Paul Azinger, Steve Elkington, Mark Brooks, Davis Love and David Toms.)

Jeer: He’s an undecorated oldster whose only brush with major greatness (1996 PGA at Valhalla) was short-circuited by his dubious decision to join the CBS broadcast rather than prepare for a predictable playoff by staying loose on the range.

Odds provided by Ladbrokes of London, the world’s largest bookmaker.

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