Tiger's Sunday 66 is too little, too late


AKRON, Ohio – Perhaps it's only fitting that here in the part of the Great Lakes region in Northeast Ohio nicknamed Rubber City, that Tiger Woods bounced back on the weekend, posting scores of 68-66 to claim a back-door top-10 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

And maybe it's apropos that his performance should spawn good feelings when the rubber meets the road, as Woods left Firestone Country Club following his final round on Sunday afternoon and was likely wheels up in no time, jetting off to Kiawah Island for this week's PGA Championship.

Really, though, this is nothing new. Any of it.

Woods has won this tournament on seven previous occasions, seven times leaving Rubber City bursting with optimism and buoyed by momentum.

While he may not own the same vibes this time around, Woods is undoubtedly brimming with confidence following a final round during which he hit 15 greens in regulation - and two of those misses were still close enough to putt.

'My tee to green game today was, I thought, pretty dialed in,' he said after a four-birdie final round. 'I was hitting it long, I was hitting it straight and my irons I was shaping both ways in all different trajectories with the wind blowing.'

Each of those will be key components at the Ocean Course, which will play 7,676 yards and can feature some ferocious crosswinds.

Of course, bringing his 'A' game - or some semblance thereof - from a regular PGA Tour event to a major championship is easier said than done.

Woods won two weeks before the Masters, but never seriously contended for his fifth green jacket. He won two weeks before the U.S. Open, but ran out of steam on the weekend at The Olympic Club. And while his win three weeks before the Open Championship was followed by a missed cut two weeks prior, he couldn't claim his 15th major title at Royal Lytham, either.

It's not quite 2009, when Tiger won the so-called Bland Slam, prevailing in his final start before every major, but it's close.

Then again, maybe there's some warped sense of logic that states it's better to head to a major without any recent hardware, sort of a powerhouse college basketball team getting a loss out of the way in a conference tournament before getting to the Big Dance.

Whatever the case, his ball-striking is obviously where it needs to be and his putting isn't nearly as flawed as the stats may contend. After making four birdies on the front nine, Woods missed mid-range putt after mid-range putt on the back.

As he explained earlier in the week, though, there's a severe difference between bad putts and good putts that don't happen to drop.

'I putted well the last two days, which was good,' Woods said. 'More importantly, I hit the ball on my start lines and that's something I did not do the first couple of days. I misread a couple, but that's just the way it goes. But at least every putt was starting on the right line and that's something I'm very excited about going into next week.'

He's learned the hard way that great ball-striking and average putting usually doesn't equate to a victory.

'He knows it's going to take good ball-striking,' said caddie Joe LaCava. 'But he also knows you've got to make some putts. Eventually if you want to win a tournament, everyone makes some putts.'

Driving? Check. Ball-striking? Check. Putting? Check.

Woods may not be entering another major coming off a victory like he has so many times, but that may not be the worst thing, either. Asked about his confidence level going into the PGA, he said, 'I'm excited about it.'

And then he smiled.