Still in the Ball Game


Bookmark and Share
PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' The question is not whats wrong with Tiger Woods so much as it is whats right with TPC Sawgrass?
Earlier this week Woods said he likes the Stadium course hard, the harder the better, he said. The world's No. 1 was talking about the agronomy of the new, bouncy May Players compared with the old, wet March version, but Saturdays display showed that he may as well have been commenting on the layouts fear factor.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods' 2-under 70 was enough to get him into the final group on Sunday. (Getty Images)
Check the scoreboard: there is no coincidence that the same day the PGA Tour decided to turn up the heat at Sawgrass, Woods made what appeared to be one of the most indifferent moves up a leaderboard since Paul Lawrie raced past Jean Van de Velde in the Carnoustie gloom. Twenty spots, to be precise, and squarely in the hunt for a title that has eluded him since 2001.
Bouncy greens and white knuckles play into Woods hands every bit as much as reachable par 5s and forced carries. What separates Woods from his lodge brothers? A mind fixated on a singular purpose and par. Its why he has 14 majors and structures his competitive calendar around four weeks a year.
When Woods walked off property and headed for his yacht at a nearby mooring, hed just broken into the top 10. By the time a large group of rope-a-dope contenders signed their cards he was tied for second and anchored to the best of all possible pole positions ' a final-round Sunday pairing with an unproven leader.
Only four (strokes) back as of right now so Im still in the ball game, a surprisingly upbeat Woods said following a scrappy 70 that he characterized as his best round at a May Players. I just plodded along, not coming back.
Woods knows more than anyone that at major events lag-putting is key, pars are worth savoring and titles are never won on Saturday. Even when he got sideways off the tee and started hitting shots left-handed, like he did at the 11th hole because of a tree entanglement, he remained composed.
By the time he reached the 16th, traffic was already heading in the wrong direction on the leaderboard and back-to-back birdies pushed him to the center of a crowded stage. But not even a birdie at Survivor Island, aka the 17th, could top the 9-foot par save at the last, a scrambling wash that pushed him to 6 under, a salve that likely made dinner taste that much better.
Woods save moved him to within five strokes of Alex Cejka and into Sundays final pairing. TPC Sawgrass is not Bay Hill, where Woods won after starting the final turn five back, and Cejka is not Sean OHair, who Woods ran down at Arnies place. But weve seen this show before. There is an unquantifiable advantage for Woods when he can look his chief rival in the eye on the first tee.
I was trying to get paired with Tiger so I could have a front-row seat to watch him win, said Kevin Na, who struggled on his closing nine and was 5 under.
The outspoken Korean transplant may only be 25 years old, but he speaks wisdom, and none of his pearls were more insightful than his observation of the obvious: Only Tiger Woods can win missing fairways.
Midway through Saturdays festivities, the American Tours flagship outing was run dizzy with an array of passports, but that was before tucked pins and decreasing moisture turned the WGC-Players into a two-man show and one of those men uses a suspect belly putter, has never won on Tour and had to have a cortisone shot recently to relieve neck and arm pain.
The kid who swam across the Rhein River to freedom has grown into a man who will need to do more than tread water to hold off Woods.
Ive got the red shirt and black pants, so were going to look like twins, Cejka smiled.
The Czech-born German may want to end the similarities there. As Na pointed out, only Woods can win with a B game and even with a five-shot cushion Cejka will have to have a full bag to hold him off.
Just ask OHair.

Email your thoughts to Rex Hoggard
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - The Players Championship
  • Golf Channel Airtimes