Staying close could leave Tiger Woods the last man standing at unforgiving Kiawah Island
They call the PGA Championship "Glory's Last Shot." But this year the slogan should be "Gory's Last Shot," because golf on the PGA Tour this year has been a horror film with an NC-18 rating. That is, No Chance if you have the lead with 18 to play.
Now it gets trickier. Webb Simpson's putt at the U.S. Open? Sure. Ernie Els' putt at the British? Yeah. But admit it – the searing images from this year have been Adam Scott collapsing, Jim Furyk collapsing, and … Jim Furyk collapsing again. This is not to mention Kyle Stanley's unwatchable meltdown at Torrey Pines in January. It's been sad, deflating, and sometimes torturous.
Even Woods has followed the general story arc. He's been strong on Thursdays and Fridays of majors but forgettable at best on the weekends. Remember the club-kicking incident at Augusta? And his 75 on Saturday at Olympic? Part of the reason for this has been the incredible difficulty of the courses, part of it has been Woods' age, part of it has been his enervated short game, and part of it has likely been residual effects of all those knee surgeries. Whatever the reason, Woods is no better at closing big events than anyone else on Tour, which sadly means LeBron James is now more clutch than pretty much any golfer out there.
What can we expect at Kiawah Island this weekend? More of the same. The course is, well, a nightmare. It plays 7,676 yards, the longest track in major championship history. That would be scary enough if it wasn't for the ocean wind that is sure to wreck a few Sunday shots. Kiawah has more seaside holes than any other course in the Northern Hemisphere, which means the tournament should be both U.S. Open-ish (length) and British Open-ish (winds that change more often than the colors of Ian Poulter's pants). And the final hole is, you guessed it, borderline-unfair. It's a 501-yard Par 5 with winds whipping in from the Atlantic. And yet it's relatively short for a Par 5 on this course.
That's a bad sign for Woods, who has been famous for crushing Par 5s over the course of his career but infamous for being crushed by them in majors since his last victory in 2008. This has been a good year for Woods as he's won three tournaments, has a Tour-best 68.85 scoring average, and finds himself in the running for Player of the Year honors. But his wins have come on (relatively) docile courses in good conditions. Kiawah will not be docile or good.
What is good for Woods is he's been in contention more often than not. During his drought, he's finished in the top six in more than half of the majors he's entered, including a tie for fourth at the British last month. So it's fair to say Tiger has been lurking, to use the most overused verb in Tiger Woods’ history.
And perhaps lurking is the best strategy this weekend. It is true that Woods has never been great at catching up on the Sundays of majors, but nothing is as frightening in 2012 as coming into the final round of a big tournament with a lead. Maybe Woods should take a cue from the winners of another major sporting event on the Atlantic coast: the Daytona 500. To win there, you simply try to survive until the very end and hope somebody else wrecks.
If that "somebody else" isn't Woods, he could very well be the last man standing on Sunday night. But whether it's Woods or someone else hoisting the Wanamaker Trophy, don't expect to see much glory until gory's had its last shot.
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