Odds Shark has Woods as the favorite to win this weekend at Oak Hill Country Club, but that certainly hasn't translated to success in recent majors.
However, his improved short game, his play at the Bridgestone Invitational and the layout of Oak Hill all point to him breaking through in Rochester.
The Short Game
Throughout his career, Tiger Woods has won an amazing 79 PGA tournaments, a feat that is good enough to make him one of the all-time greats. But the one aspect of his game that has ailed him when he struggles is his short game.
As Steve DiMeglio of the Democrat and Chronicle noted, Woods needs to be on with his putter.
Woods wins when he putts well — in four of his five victories this season he’s finished in the top five in total putts — but putting woes have led to lost weekends at majors of late. In his last six majors, for instance, he’s averaged 28.3 putts per round in the first two rounds, but on Saturday and Sunday he’s averaged 30.9 putts per round.
Despite finishing tied for sixth at the British Open, Woods was 29th overall in putting. If he can bridge that gap, he should be staring down another major championship.
Why should we be confident he'll do just that this weekend?
Well, Woods has been putting a particular focus on that area of his game. According to the Golf Channel, he's worked with Steve Stricker, one of the best putters in the game.
Confirmed: Steve Stricker checked Tiger Woods' putting stroke during practice round -> Blog: http://t.co/8xqbItro0n— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) August 6, 2013
Rex Hoggard of the Golf Channel reports they spent a significant amount of time on the course focusing on the short game: "Woods and Stricker lingered for some 15 minutes on the sixth green on Monday, with Woods hitting between 20 and 30 putts, while Stricker talked."
There's obviously no guarantee these lessons will pay off on the weekend, but it's clear Tiger is making an honest attempt to correct his biggest weakness.
Victory at Bridgestone
As many critics will tell you, winning a tournament prior to a major doesn't really make a difference. More specifically, Kelly Tilghman of the Golf Channel is telling us it doesn't mean much for Tiger this week.
Tiger Woods has won 20 final starts before a major. He went on to win the major 4 times (last 2007 Bridgestone/PGA)— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) August 5, 2013
I think they're missing the point. Sure, it's no guarantee, but let's look at his success in the PGA Championship when he wins the Bridgestone in this table:
|PGA Champ. Finish||1||1||T29||T4||1||1||2||?|
Much more promising, right?
The Bridgestone itself isn't a tell-all indicator of how Tiger will do this weekend, but it showed he's putting well.
And for all the criticism he has received, Tiger has had a phenomenal year. Aside from his performances at the Memorial and US Open—both of which were marred by an elbow injury—Tiger has seven top-10 finishes in nine starts.
Expect him to ride the positive momentum well into the weekend.
Oak Hill Country Club
Woods should be licking his chops to get out on Oak Hill after his success this past weekend. The Rochester-based course will certainly provide a tougher test than Firestone Country Club, but there's a definite comparison to be made between the two courses.
Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel provides a basic comparison: "This year, Firestone [is] followed in the batting order by Oak Hill, another tree-lined, old-style course that [requires] competitors to bash drivers long and straight in order to find success."
Tiger tends to agree:
It is very similar, straightforward, right in front of you. This golf course, I don't think, is as hard or as difficult as Oak Hill, especially with the green complexes. The green complexes are a little bit more severe at Oak Hill. But overall it's old-school golf. It's just right in front of you, no hidden tricks out there. Just got to go out there and really hit the ball well.
One thing that bodes well for Woods is that he's been striking the ball incredibly well. Even though he struggled on the weekend at the Open Championship, it wasn't because of his irons or play off the tee.
If he can maintain that kind of consistency and improve his putting like many expect him to do, this is his championship to lose.