Before the third round even began — actually, before the second round even began — I had the Wanamaker trophy already etched with Tiger Woods’ name for 2009.
Tiger leads a major after round 1? Over. Done. Fini.
As if to make things that much more certain, Woods went out and clobbered the field again on Friday, taking a four-shot lead after 36 holes.
And that was that. As far as I was concerned, I didn’t need to see another shot struck — by anybody. Because it didn’t matter.
Tiger Woods had won the PGA Championship.
And yet, they still decided to tee it up on Saturday for the third round at Hazeltine. And a strange thing happened — the field didn’t wilt (Has this ever happened with Tiger leading? Answer: no.) and Tiger didn’t rip the hearts out of the competition. (Has this ever happened? Answer: hell no.)
And so now, with a studly leaderboard in the hunt, will we witness yet another stupefying ending to a major championship, one in which the person most people hope to win will again falter down the stretch? Will Tiger Woods, of all people, become the next Kenny Perry, the next Phil Mickelson and David Duval, and the next Tom Watson?
It’s time to find out. Here are my picks for who can win, who won’t win and who will win the PGA Championship.
Who Can Win
Before Saturday, my entry for this portion was going to read like this:
And then I was going to move on.
But Woods has daringly left the door open, and so now it seems somebody can steal this major from the most dominant player the game has ever seen. And so now, if Woods shoots around par on Sunday, a 69 or 68 could beat him.
I don’t know about you, but I’m a little stunned.
Anyway, let’s get to it.
Padraig Harrington -6
The guy is just tough as nails.
Even when his game has been in a funk all season as he inexplicably reworks the swing that won him three majors in six tries, Harrington finds himself knocking on the door to become Tiger’s true rival.
It was clear during the final round at the Bridgestone Invitational that Harrington and Woods get along and enjoy the burgeoning battle, and though Harrington didn’t handle the pressure of being put on the clock as well as Woods did, up until that point, he had taken Tiger’s best shot and led with three holes to play.
I’m betting Harrington is dying for another chance to beat Tiger head-to-head — and to do it on a big, big stage.
Ernie Els -3
Call off the search and rescue team, we’ve found Ernie Els.
Remember a while back when Els said he was going to work on a three-year plan to return to the No. 1 ranking in the world?
That three-year window ends this week at the PGA.
Els won’t be reclaiming the top spot in the world anytime soon, but there was the Big Easy again on Saturday, splitting fairways and finding the center of the cup the way a three-time major winner should.
Of course, then he staggered into the house with three straight bogeys after getting as low as 6-under. So can he put it together for all 18 holes on Sunday? He’s got the pedigree.
Lucas Glover -4
Guess who’s quickly becoming one of the top players in the world?
He hasn’t exactly gone low in any of the three rounds thus far, but his tailor-made game for the U.S. Open is working nicely on the longest course in major championship history.
Henrik Stenson -4
You might remember him for stripping to his boxers to hit a shot from the water at Doral — if you don’t, your wife probably does — but don’t forget about him walking away with The Players Championship. That’s the fifth major. Maybe he wins the fourth major this week.
Who Won’t Win
Phil Mickelson +8
He was just too rusty this week. I bet he contends at Augusta in April.
Vijay Singh E
He’s just not the same player he was five years ago, not for four full rounds in a major. Dude can’t putt.
Corey Pavin -1
Pavin is like the last golfer remaining from a bygone era. For two days, I watched Pavin hit low line drives off the tee and then hybrid after hybrid and wedge after wedge and 1-putt after 1-putt his way to make the cut at the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst. And now, four years later, he’s in the top 15 on a 7,650-yard monster at a major.
I’m not sure enough people realize how amazing this achievement is. Gutsy, gritty, hard-nosed golf. The kind you wish you had the cojones to play.
Well, Shaun Micheel won this tournament, so I guess it’s possible.
Soren Kjeldsen -3
See: Yang, Y.E.
Who Will Win
Tiger Woods -8
I can’t argue with history.
The man is 36-1 when leading after 54 holes. He is 14-0 in majors when he is leading or is tied for the lead after 54 holes.
He may have looked halfway human on Saturday, but that’s the benefit of having a four-shot lead. Woods does this sometimes — he goes into conservative mode and makes the other players make a charge.
Well, they charged.
And then Woods stepped onto the 352-yard par-4 14th hole, moments after Harrington had caught him at 7 under.
And that’s when Woods stepped onto the throttle, using the most unreliable club in his bag, swinging as hard as he could — and drove the green.
He cold-cocked the eagle putt, though, running it off the green, which forced him to pull out the lob wedge and chip it. All he did then was sink the chip for birdie.
And it was that moment on Saturday when you were reminded that he is Tiger Woods.
And Tiger Woods doesn’t lose a lead in a major championship.