|ESPN.com: Sobel||[Print without images]|
You don't have to be a golf writer to know the most important statistic entering Sunday's final round of the PGA Championship, so let's all recite it together: Tiger Woods is 14-for-14 when holding the 54-hole lead at a major championship.
With a 2-stroke advantage entering the final round here at Hazeltine National GC, Woods is looking to extend that streak to a 15th career major title. Of course, it's not a foregone conclusion just yet; they've still got to play 18 holes before handing him the Wanamaker Trophy.
Let's examine what Woods and the other contenders need to do and avoid in the final round.
Tiger Woods (8-under 208)
Needs to stick to the game plan. Woods admitted he "attacked" the course with a conservative strategy in Round 3, often preferring to aim for the fat part of the green and avoid mistakes rather than firing at the flagsticks. It might not be terribly exciting golf to watch, but another round like this will garner his fifth career PGA victory.
Needs to avoid a repeat performance on the par-5 holes. Sure, they're long, with three of the four measuring 600-plus yards, but Tiger has destroyed par-5s throughout his career. Making birdie on at least two of these holes will also give him a little leeway to make a mistake on another hole. After all, he hasn't shown a propensity for making up strokes on the par-3 holes, which he's played in 11 pars and one bogey so far this week.
Yong-Eun Yang (6-under 210)
Needs to keep playing like he has been. Yang opened Round 2 with bogeys on four of his first five holes; since then, he has been red hot, playing his last 31 holes in 11-under-par with just a single bogey. If he can keep up this momentum in the final round, Yang could be the fourth straight major champion to steal a spot in the winner's circle from a more heralded performer.
Needs to avoid flaming out under the spotlight and glare that comes from being in the same pairing with Woods on a major championship Sunday. After his third round, Yang was both complimentary toward Woods and a little in awe of him, saying, "He's won 70 times now. I've only won once, so it's sort of 70-to-1 odds. Yeah, might as well go for broke."
Padraig Harrington (6-under 210)
Needs to remain patient. There's no more important characteristic for major champions than the ability to know when to play conservatively and when to take chances. The three-time major champion has made this into an art form. There's no point in changing gears now, even when he trails the world's No. 1-ranked player by a couple of strokes.
Needs to avoid another final-hole bogey. On Friday, Paddy missed a 3-footer for par at the 18th hole; on Saturday, he chipped through the green and 2-putted. If he remains in the mix throughout the final round, this 475-yard par-4 will become crucial. Here's guessing he won't be in position where he can afford to make another bogey.
Rest of the field (4-under 212 and below)
Needs to go low. No two ways about it. If the leader at 8-under was an unproven commodity, these players would still be very much in the mix with any score in the 60s. But knowing the leader won't shoot anything above par means that the likes of Henrik Stenson and Lucas Glover at 4-under and Ernie Els and Soren Kjeldsen at 3-under need to post a really good number to have a chance. So far this week, the best score is a 5-under 67. Even that might not be enough.
Needs to avoid taking too many risks. Hey, there's a lot at stake here, even if they can't win -- from Ryder and Presidents Cup points to FedEx Cup points to plain ol' cash money. I'd never suggest a guy shouldn't play for the victory, but if a guy is down 5 with three holes to play? He'll want to keep some composure at the end or else it could hurt in the long run.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.