- The Washington Times - Monday, August 21, 2006

MEDINAH, Ill. — The 88th PGA Championship proved again that the only thing as remarkable as Tiger Woods’ brilliance in the majors is the incompetence of his competition.

Medinah was primed yesterday for a fourth consecutive day of fire-away birdie barrages and a final-round boat race. Instead, yet another major finale turned into a one-man pleasure cruise.

The fact that it’s the same man, the 30-year-old now two-thirds of the way to Jack Nicklaus’ record haul of 18 majors, says plenty about Woods (18-under 270). It’s one of the sublime pleasures in sports to watch Tiger in his ultimate element, a seemingly unflappable, indefatigable demigod at play among mortals.

But it does get a little tiresome watching Woods spend Slam Sundays by himself with only Jack’s record and the occasional historical challenge to keep him company.

Nobody was going to beat Woods yesterday. He had his tee-ball twirl and golf’s quintessential clutch putting stroke working from the first hole, always a bad omen for the rest of the field. Woods is tough enough to catch when he isn’t hitting fairways and pouring in every putt. When he’s finding fairways and jarring the kind of half-mile putts (Nos. 6 and 8) that lead most of us to apologize to our playing partners, chasing him down is about as plausible as climbing Everest — barefoot.

The golf world is still waiting for somebody to chase him down when he holds or shares the 54-hole lead in a major after he ran his victory conversion record in such situations to 12-for-12 yesterday.

It might be too much to ask Saturday-night challengers to chase him down on Sunday. But do they almost always have to crash?

A round in the low 60s was in play yesterday in Medinah. It was out there on the super-soft track with relatively flat, simple greens. Just ask Australia’s Adam Scott, who was on pace for a 64 or 65 before a pair of closing-hole bogeys. This was the same par-72 layout with four reachable par 5s that was being roasted in some quarters by players for being too easy on Saturday night.

And yet while Woods was shooting a ho-hum 68 that allowed him to transition to ultraconservative mode on the entire back nine, only one other player in the last six pairings managed to scratch out a score in the 60s. One player out of the 10 other than Woods who entered the finale within six strokes of the overnight lead (shared by Woods and Luke Donald at 14 under) came up with a respectable showing.

And that one player was Shaun Micheel (69, 275), a guy who came to Medinah having missed seven consecutive major cuts. A vintage journeyman, lightning struck for Micheel at the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill. And, of course, he had recorded exactly four top 10s without sniffing a victory in any PGA Tour event in the three years since.

No more could have been asked of Micheel, the latest in the Bob May/Rich Beem tradition of lesser-knowns tangling with Tiger.

But what about the guys with the games and resumes to supposedly challenge Tiger? The other four players who started the day tied with Woods or within four were Donald (74, 276), Geoff Ogilvy (74, 279), Mike Weir (73, 277) and Sergio Garcia (70, 276) — Britain’s best, the defending U.S. Open champion, the 2003 Masters champion and the world No. 9, respectively. What did they come up with for the Sunday showdown? — 3 over. Beautiful. Medinah was there for the taking, and Tiger’s top challengers decided to take a vacation.

“You would think going to the first tee that [Tiger] would feel the pressure because everybody is expecting him to win, and it’s the exact opposite. The guy playing with him feels the most pressure,” said Chris DiMarco (280), who has given Woods two (2005 Masters, 2006 British Open) of his precious four major fights. “He’s a pretty intimidating guy, there’s no doubt about it.”

Donald had the audacity to show up wearing Woods’ signature Sunday red and proceeded to back up his sartorial challenge by not carding a single birdie, raising the fourth-round scoring average of Woods’ 12 final-pairing major victims to a ghastly 72.92 strokes. Woods has averaged 69.25 strokes on his 12 door-slamming Sundays.

Ogilvy, who explained quite confidently Saturday night that Woods eventually would fail to consummate a 54-hole lead, posted a 74 that included a four-putt from 30 feet that ended his bid to become the streak-snapper before he left the third green.

Weir reached 15 under through 10 holes, pulling within three strokes of Woods before coming up as small as his Weeblesque stature during a back-nine implosion (39).

And Garcia, well the kid just can’t catch a break. Just ask him.

“I hit a lot of good putts that didn’t want to go in,” the 26-year-old Spaniard said. “Everything went [Tiger’s] way, too. The bad shots he hit all week long, he got away with them.”

In and around those loads of bad shots, golf’s fortunate son led the field in greens in regulation this week (56 of 72) and made exactly three bogeys. In fact, isn’t it an amazing coincidence that Woods has lucked himself into a dozen of these major deals in the last decade?

Perhaps it’s not enough that Woods has handicapped himself this season by virtually taking the driver out of his bag, winning at Hoylake last month with a 2- and 4-iron and last week with a 5-wood and putter. Maybe from now on when Tiger leads through 54 holes at a major, everybody else in contention should get to play from the red tees. After all, they sure keep behaving like that’s where they belong.

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