TULSA, Okla. — The heat is appalling, really. On Friday it killed a Tulsa man. Compared to that, the heat’s toll on the PGA Championship matters not at all. Still, there’s no escaping it. It’s warm at sunrise, it’s scorching at noon and hotter yet by suppertime. In the press tent on Saturday night, Tiger looked like a boxer between rounds with a towel around his shoulders, waiting for the bell to ring, waiting for Round 4. Next victim, please.
Get the lead, expand the lead. Beat the guys you’re playing with in the first two rounds, when play is in threesomes; beat the guy you’re playing with on Saturday; beat the guy you’re playing with on Sunday. Keep an eye on the leaderboard and make sure you’re beating all those guys, too. Woods is a boxer who’s never been hit. There’s not a mark on him. All that road training is paying off. Eighteen in this appalling heat and he looks like he could go out again.
Tiger’s whole year depends on Sunday. A year without a major is a lost year, professionally. He’ll get up for it by staying in the mellow zone he’s been in all week. He’ll win with jabs-irons off the tee, shots to the middle of the green, lag putts to the edge of the holes. There will be no mistakes, no knockout punches. He’ll win on points.
He never plays desperate, even though he’s desperate right now. In ’99 he made his year by winning the final major. On Sunday, he’ll likely do it again.
On Thursday and Friday, Bob Tway, the ’86 PGA champ, and Rich Beem, the ’02 champ, got to see his action up close. Woods took care of them, and about 150 other guys, too. Tway said, “In 2000, he was swinging a club as well as anybody ever has. Since then, it hasn’t been quite there. There have been times it’s looked a little discombobulated, a little out of rhythm. He doesn’t now. He was making beautiful swings.”
He began Saturday with a three-shot lead over his playing partner, Scott Verplank. Like Tway, Verplank lives in Oklahoma. He knows about the hot summer wind. It was too much, the wind, the heat, Tiger’s stinging irons off the tee. A 74 to Woods’s 69.
Sunday, Round 4, and Stephen Ames in the ring, in the Verplank position, starting the day three shots back. Any other event, or any other leader, you’d look at the board and think the guys under par have a chance to win, and there are five of them. You’d say, Tiger makes a bogey on No. 1 and Ames makes a birdie, and suddenly it’s one shot, and with one shot anything can happen, right?
Well, Tiger’s not going to make a bogey on No. 1 and Ames is not going to make a birdie. That sounds outrageous and it is. Golf’s a game with no defense, and Woods can’t control what Ames is going to do, can he?
Actually, he can. Guys play poorly with Woods on Sunday in a major. Ask Sergio, Ernie, Aaron Baddeley. “It’s probably going to happen to me,” Ames said.
It would be a lot more fun if it didn’t. In boxing, it happens. Buster Douglas beat Mike Tyson once, remember? The problem for Ames is that Woods is no Tyson. He’s done the road work. He can play in the heat.