Tiger Woods does not give big leads away.
While he hasn't lapped the field like he is doing at the Bridgestone Invitational in quite a while, it's apparently a lot like riding a bicycle. You simply don't forget how to do it when you get the opportunity.
Woods shot a 68 in the third round at Firestone, and he has a seven-stroke lead after 54 holes at one of his favorite tournaments. He has won the Bridgestone Invitational seven times in his career.
When Woods gets a big lead, he knows how to sap the energy out of the competition. It's probably with good reason. Even if you are a top pro, you can't help but feel you are playing for anything but second place when you see Tiger's name on top of the leaderboard on moving day, and the margin is as large as seven strokes.
Take what happened on the 13th hole at Firestone. He was in trouble on the 471-yard par four. His second shot landed in the deep rough on the side of the hole, and it seemed as if he would need to have his best short game working just to get up-and-down.
He didn't make his four. But instead of having to settle for a bogey, Woods popped the ball out of the rough softly, and it landed on the edge of the green and started rolling. Instead of coming to a halt, it simply found the bottom of the the cup for a birdie three.
Two straight days Tiger has played 13 and appeared headed for a bogey. Two straight days he walks off with a birdie instead.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) August 3, 2013
How do you compete with that? If Woods was a normal golfer, he would have settled for a bogey, and his seven-stroke lead would have been sliced to six. However, he made a nearly impossible birdie, and his lead grew to a substantial eight strokes.
Jason Dufner was playing well at the time and was Woods' closest pursuer. While he's not the type to flash a smile and play to the crowd under the best of circumstances, he wore a dour look throughout most of the round. When you are chasing Woods—when he is commanding a tournament—it's a somewhat hopeless feeling.
That was precisely the look Dufner wore throughout the third round. By the end of the round, Dufner had surrendered second place to Henrik Stenson.
Woods has been in the position of overpowering the field quite a few times in his career. Woods has won 14 tournaments in his career by eight strokes or more. His best and most memorable performance was his shocking 15-stroke victory in the 2000 U.S. Open.
Only slightly less incredible was his 12-stroke margin at the 1997 Masters, which happened to be his first triumph in a major.
Woods' last monstrous margin came in the 2009 BMW Championship. He won that tournament by eight strokes. He had a seven-stroke lead at the end of 54 holes in that tournament, just like he currently has at the Bridgestone Invitational.
When Woods jumps to a big lead, as he did in this tournament with his shocking 61 in the second round, it seems to unleash another gear of competitiveness that few other golfers have. You might be able to imagine Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els or Rory McIlroy (when he's at the top of his game) building a six-stroke lead or more in a particular tournament.
If Mickelson had that kind of lead, he would be smiling broadly and possibly high-fiving the crowd as he ambled to the next tee. When Tiger has that kind of lead, he presses the hammer down harder and wants to build an even bigger margin. He doesn't acknowledge the crowd because he has tunnel vision concerning the task at hand.
A big lead is not enough. It's never enough. He wants to wipe out the field.
It has been four years since Woods has had this kind of opportunity. It's a position he loves to be in and he's not going to be satisfied with a win.
He wants to blow away the field.
That's the nightmare that the top pros have to face when Woods is on top of his prodigious game.