Tiger Woods is back at the site of his most dominant major performance, with another major title under his belt. Will he add No. 16 at Pebble Beach? Chatting back and forth, GolfChannel.com senior writers Ryan Lavner and Rex Hoggard discuss what Tiger needs to do to win the U.S. Open … and if he will:
LAVNER: All right, Rex. Tiger is back at Pebble Beach, the site of his greatest performance. Nineteen years later, what are your expectations for him?
HOGGARD: At this point, a victory is never out of the question. I got out of the Tiger-doubting business in April. That said, this will challenge parts of his game we're just not sure about at the moment.
LAVNER: What aren't you sure about? Putting on Poa? Everyone in the field will be playing from virtually the same spot in the fairway, and he's the best iron player on the planet. That gives him a huge advantage.
HOGGARD: Advantage, sure. But he still has to hit fairways. Butch Harmon said his 2000 performance at Pebble Beach was the best he's ever seen him drive the ball. That has not been the best part of his game this year.
LAVNER: Interesting, seeing how, statistically, he's driving the ball better than he has in years. Sure, last year his driver was a liability – it probably cost him the PGA. But players are only going to need to hit between three and six drivers this week, depending on conditions. That's the least of his concerns, really.
HOGGARD: Pebble is about complete control, and in 2000 he had complete control. Given his last two starts he hasn't exactly been at that level. The bigger question is which Tiger shows up: the guy who won his 15th major at the Masters or missed the cut at the PGA?
LAVNER: Put it this way: It'd be shocking if he missed the cut here. He admitted that he was in "rough shape" at Bethpage – Illness? Back tightness? Both? – and it led to him getting boat-raced by Brooks Koepka. Don't think we'll see that Tiger here – or anything close to it.
HOGGARD: He has always arrived prepared to play at major championships. It's been his calling card. That is, until he arrived at this year's PGA not prepared. No practice round on Tuesday at Pebble Beach. What looked like a grinding range session. Reading tea leaves here, but that doesn't scream prepared.
LAVNER: Tiger knows where his game is at the moment – he looked awfully good the final day at the Memorial. At this point in his career he doesn't need the extra wear and tear. The limited prep tells me that he's more interested in being fresh for a tough, stressful week.
HOGGARD: And we all agree that's best at this point, but as we learned at Bethpage that doesn't always translate to success. There's also the question of who he may face on Sunday. At their best, Brooks Koepka or Rory McIlroy would be tough opponents.
LAVNER: Tiger seemed to handle them just fine at Augusta, no? Pebble requires guile and precision, and Tiger has those attributes in abundance. So, what's your prediction for the week?
HOGGARD: Well, he didn't seem to be able to "handle" Brooks so well at two of the last five majors so I'm not sure that's a valid argument. Tiger will contend, but whether he wins or not will depend on his ability to putt like he did at Pebble in 2000 and who will be alongside him on the Sunday leaderboard.
LAVNER: "Contend"? Way to take a stand. Can't believe I'm typing this after all of these years, but Tiger is my pick to win. Two reasons: His quality approach shots into firm, tiny, severe greens gives him a massive advantage, and his golf IQ can shine on a layout that's going to push players to the breaking point.