Worlds Best Gather at Wachovia

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When Tiger Woods better days are behind him, well look back and reminisce over all the wonderful things he accomplished. Well think about the six straight U.S. Jr. Am and Amateur Championship titles. Well think about the 1997 Masters and the entire 2000 season and the Tiger Slam and maybe even the 2005 Grand Slam.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods continues to try and find his groove with the driver.
We wont think very much, however, about the 2004 Wachovia Championship ' even if it provides one of the greatest examples as to whom Tiger Woods is as a competitor.
 
To put it bluntly: Tiger was terrible ' at least off the tee. He hit the ball pretty far, averaging over 309 yards per measured driver. He just didnt hit it very straight.
 
Seventy-two players made the cut last year at Quail Hollow Club; only two hit fewer fairways than Woods. Tigers ball only nestled in the short grass 24 times in 56 opportunities.
 
Consequently, he managed to hit only 59.7 percent of his greens in regulation, which left him tied for 64th in the field in that department.
 
And just where did Mr. Woods end the week? How about a tie for third; just one stroke out of a playoff. He even held the midway lead. His eventual defeat marked the first time he had failed to convert a 36-hole lead into victory in his last 19 tries on tour.
 
What Woods showed that week was grit and determination ' and that most tour events are a glorified putting contest.
 
Sampling the 17 stroke-play events contested on tour this season, only one player has finished outside the top 25 in putting the week he won. That was Fred Funk, who captured The Players Championship by finishing the tournament first in driving accuracy and first in greens hit in regulation. He was 60th in putting.
 
Players have averaged about 13th in the field in putting the week they won.
 
By comparison, weekly winners average roughly 14th in the field in greens hit in regulation, 17th in driving distance and 41st in driving accuracy.
 
A year ago, Joey Sindelar earned his first tour title in 14 years by beating Arron Oberholser in a playoff at the Wachovia Championship. And it came because of an unusually productive week with his putter.
 
Sindelar hasnt cracked the top 100 on tour in seasonal putting average since 1999. He was 182nd last year.
 
But during that winning week at the Wachovia, Sindelar was seventh in the field in putting.
 
Two years ago, in the inaugural Wachovia Championship, David Toms was his usual solid self on the greens, finishing the tournament fourth in putting on his way to victory.
 
Five for the Title:
 
Tiger Woods
This tournament features a major-quality field, with 18 of the top 25 players on the Official World Golf Ranking in attendance. Three of the top four players are represented with the inclusion of Woods (No. 1), Vijay Singh (No. 2) and Phil Mickelson (No. 4). Woods is making his first start since his memorable Masters victory. As mentioned, he tied for third in his Wachovia debut a year ago. And he may again have to rely on his scrambling ability and natural talent to contend at Quail Hollow. Per usual, Woods is rolling his rock quite well, as he is comfortably in the top 10 on tour in putting average. His driving accuracy, however, is still suspect. He is outside the top 150 on tour in this category. This is one of three tournaments (Byron Nelson and Memorial) that he is likely to play before he continues his Grand Slam quest at the U.S. Open.
 
Phil Mickelson
Mickelson is teeing it up for the first time since slipping the green jacket onto Tigers shoulders at Augusta National. He tied for fifth in his maiden Wachovia appearance last year. And if putting proves to be a determining factor then Phil should factor into the final outcome. Mickelson is tied for sixth on tour in putting average. Thats why he already has three victories to his credit this season (FBR Open, AT&T Pebble Beach and BellSouth Classic) and three other top-10 finishes.
 
Vijay Singh
Yeah, we know were not going out on much of a limb here by listing the top three-ranked players in the field among the five favorites to win this week; however, there is a reason they are all in the top four in the world: because they are constantly in contention. With the exception of the MCI Heritage, at least one of these players has been in the field each week on tour this season. Of these 16 tournaments, they have combined to win eight times. And it could have been more, if Singh could have closed the deal at The Honda and Bay Hill, where he both times finished runner-up. Singh took the silver medal at this event in 2003 and tied for 10th last year. If there is one con among Vijays many pros, its that he has to compete against both Woods and Mickelson this week. Singh has 15 tour wins in less than 2 seasons, but only two of them (2004 PGA Championship and 2003 Funai Classic) have come with those two particulars in the field.
 
Adam Scott
This tournament features a strong international contingency, including 12 Australian-born players. Leading the way is Adam Scott. The 24-year-old Aussie has never competed in this event, but he defeated another stellar international field in his last start at the Johnnie Walker Classic. Should he prevail, he would become the first non-American to win a PGA Tour event on this course. When Quail Hollow hosted what is now known as the Booz Allen Classic (formerly the Kemper Open), Americans ran the table from 1969-79. They have continued the trend with Toms and Sindelar taking the first two titles in this event.
 
Scott Verplank
Verplank does just about everything well. He leads the tour in driving accuracy, is in the top 70 in greens hit in regulation, and is in the top 20 in putting. He only averages about 270 yards off the tee, but he always seems to play difficult golf courses well. Quail Hollow has been likened to a major championship venue, and though Verplank has never won a major ' or won any event since 2001, he is playing well of late. He tied for second at The Players Championship, tied for 20th at the Masters and tied for 10th at the MCI Heritage.
 
Playing Out the Front Nine
 
Four more players to keep an eye on
 
*Kirk Triplett, who seems to have an affinity for Quail Hollow. Triplett tied for fifth in 2003 and then fired a tournament record 8-under 64 in the first round a year ago, before eventually settling for a tie for 15th.
 
*Lucas Glover, who tied for 10th in this event on a sponsors exemption last year. Glover has been pretty much all or nothing this season. In nine starts, he has five top-10s and three missed cuts. He tied for third last week at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans.
 
*Davis Love III, who played collegiate golf down on Tobacco Road. The North Carolina Tarheel hasnt performed up to his lofty standards this season, but a top-10 finish may be in the cards this week ' thanks to his name. Two years ago, Charles Howell III tied for seventh here. Last year, Notah Begay III tied for fifth. If its not Love IIIs turn this year, then perhaps its Tommy Armour IIIs or Joey Snyder IIIs, both of whom are in the field.
 
*Jay Haas, who will try and follow in Sindelars footsteps and end a lengthy winless drought. The 51-year-old Wake Forest product hasnt won on tour since the 1993 Texas Open. Prior to last year, Sindelar hadnt won since the 1990 Hardees Golf Classic. Haas has made the cut in each of his previous two Wachovia starts.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Wachovia Championship