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How the Ocean Course shapes up for Woods' game

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With another failed Sunday in a major championship in his rear-view mirror, Tiger Woods can take solace in the fact that he has one more chance to claim a major this year.

Ladbrokes heavily favors him to win the PGA Championship Aug. 9-12 at Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course in South Carolina.

The oddsmakers have Woods as the favorite, at 6-1, with Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson at 10-1 and Luke Donald and Lee Westwood at 16-1.

Of course, odds are based solely on a bookmaker’s gauge of the public’s betting interest. Whether Woods is really the player best suited to win at the Ocean Course is another question, and that’s difficult to gauge given this is the first time he and other tour pros will compete there.

A larger question to ponder in figuring the odds on Woods is whether Pete Dye has Woods’ number.

Woods has never been as dominant, or seemed as comfortable, on courses designed by Dye as he has been on other venues.

While Woods won The Players Championship in 2001 on Dye’s TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, it looms as his only PGA Tour title on a course designed by Dye. In fairness, Woods has only played 18 PGA Tour events on Dye courses, and 15 of those starts have come at TPC Sawgrass. Woods tied for 18th on Dye’s Harbour Town Links at the MCI Classic in ’99 and never returned to play there again. He tied for 28th at Dye’s Whistling Straits’ design during the PGA Championship two years ago and tied for 24th there in the ’04 PGA Championship.

In 18 pro starts on Dye courses, Woods has two top-five finishes, though it should be noted Woods won a U.S. Amateur at TPC Sawgrass in 1994.

“Is Tiger suited to win at Kiawah? That’s a tough call,” says Denis Watson, who won the Senior PGA Championship at Kiawah Island in 2007. “He’s obviously still got it, winning three times this year. He hits a lot of quality shots, but there are times his swing doesn’t look as flowing, as natural as it used to be.”

Watson expects the wind to challenge Woods as much as Dye’s fiendish design features.

“I was surprised how as soon as the wind picked up Sunday at the British Open, Tiger lost it,” Watson said.

And the wind is expected to be a substantial factor at Kiawah Island.

It blows almost all the time there.

“I would be absolutely shocked if the wind didn’t blow in a round,” said Stephen Youngner, the Ocean Course’s head professional.

And if the winds didn’t shift in confounding ways.

“There is no prevailing wind here,” Youngner said.

The course is thrust out into the elements on an exposed end of Kiawah Island, where Dye’s wife, Alice, made sure the wind would have something extra to say in outcomes. Originally, Pete envisioned the Ocean Course nestled down within the large island dunes at shore’s edge. Alice, who co-designed the course, talked her husband into raising the entire design, so that the course offered unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean. Doing so accentuated the wind’s effect.

This isn’t to say Woods can’t play in the wind. Overall, his ball striking has been more exacting than anyone’s this year. If his new swing is honed, he’ll be able to separate himself in the wind. If he harbors doubts about the new swing, if those cause him to get caught between old and new swing patterns again, the winds could sift him out of contention.

“I would expect a player as tenacious as Tiger will figure out the best way to play there,” Watson said.

The Ocean Course is long, a par 72 with a scorecard yardage of 7,676 yards. If Woods is going to win, a big question is whether he can do it playing as conservatively as he did contending at the U.S. Open and British Open, where he hit his driver sparingly.

Watson isn’t sure a player can win on the Ocean Course without hitting driver and hitting it well. He says it depends on how the course is set up, how firm and fast the track is, how narrowed the fairways are cut.

“The fairways will be fairly generous,” said Kerry Haigh, the PGA’s managing director of championships. “They’ll range from 28 yards to 50 yards in width.”

And the Bermuda rough won’t be overly penal.

“I don’t anticipate it being very long, just long enough to slow up balls and make players think about what kind of shots they want to play out of it,” Haigh said.

With generous fairways, with reasonable rough, players ought to be able to hit an ample amount of drivers. Woods doesn’t seem to want to do that these days. His conservative game plans have him hitting the big stick sparingly. If his competition is pounding more drivers than usual at the PGA Championship, will it force his hand to do the same?

“It depends on how firm and fast it’s playing,” Watson said. “I could see Tiger hitting that stinger around there, shaping shots.”

With all the wind, the Ocean Course’s greens were designed relatively flat, with subtle movements. The greens are Sea Isle Supreme Paspalum grasses, the fairways Sea Spray Paspalum. The rough’s Bermuda with wild native grasses on the fringe.

“The winner is going to be a guy who is very precise that week, who will be very exacting, very methodical in his choice of clubs off the tees,” Watson said. “It’s going to be a guy who hits a lot of fairways and is pretty precise with his driver. There are angles to that course that you have to play to get at some of the flags there.”

If Woods is precise, exacting and methodical, he might be more than the favorite to win at Kiawah Island. He might lay claim to his 15th major championship.