Commentary

Woods focused on winning year's final major

Updated: August 8, 2007, 8:57 AM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

TULSA, Okla. -- The celebration didn't last long. Maybe stepping on Rory Sabbatini's neck doesn't elicit the same satisfaction that it once did. Perhaps finding a spot for another World Golf Championship trophy weighed on his mind.

And while we all could use another $1.5 million, Tiger Woods has done less for more -- as in simply "appearing" at a golf tournament overseas.

No, winning the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday, an impressive eight-stroke victory, was not going to detour Woods from the real goal, maybe the only goal -- winning this week's PGA Championship.

Woods has four PGA Tour victories this year. He leads the Tour's money list and the FedEx Cup points race. He has the lowest scoring average.

Tiger Woods
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesWoods has finished T-12 and T-21 in two previous starts at Southern Hills.
But you could bet Woods would dive across his Florida mansion to clear space for another major championship trophy.

He doesn't have one this year, and the PGA at Southern Hills presents the last opportunity. In only three other years during his professional career -- 1998, 2003 and 2004 -- has Woods gone a season without bringing home the major hardware.

"Golf-wise, it's been pretty good, but not great," Woods said of 2007. "If all you win is a major, then it's a great year. I just think the major championships are valued that highly. I've come close. I just haven't gotten it done yet."

Perhaps that is why Woods wasted no time getting to Tulsa. The wheels were up soon after all the backslapping and handshaking had subsided in Akron, Ohio, where Woods hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation, shot a final-round 65 and kept Sabbatini from doing more yapping by not allowing him up for air.

It was the 58th victory of Woods' PGA Tour career, but he is more interested in the No. 13 -- as in the 13th major title he seeks in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' 18.

And so Woods arrived at Southern Hills before dawn on Monday morning. Camilo Villegas figured to get in a quick practice round by himself, but along came the world's No. 1, and he joined Villegas and Bubba Watson while the temperature still hovered around "hot" instead of "blazing."

Woods repeated the process on Tuesday, doing his best to beat the heat and see as much of Southern Hills as possible.

Much has been made of Woods' lack of success here ... probably too much. The 1996 Tour Championship, when he finished in a share of 21st out of 30 players, was hardly a gauge, given his father Earl's hospitalization that weekend and the November playing date.

In 2001, Woods had won four straight majors, then at the U.S. Open shot an opening-round 74 from which he never recovered.

"I just wasn't hitting the ball well," he said. "At the U.S. Open, if you're not hitting the ball well and not hitting precise, you're going to get exposed, and I did that week."

If "exposed" is finishing T-12, then Woods really does live in a world of high expectations.

He comes into the PGA having finished T-2, T-2 and T-12 at the year's first three major championships. He doubled his runner-up finishes in majors from two to four. For the first time in his career, he held the lead during the final round of a major and failed to win, when he finished two strokes behind Zach Johnson at the Masters. Then he did it again at the U.S. Open, finishing a stroke back of Angel Cabrera.

If anything, maybe those close calls gave Woods a dose of perspective, an added appreciation for what he has accomplished. Winning majors is not easy -- just ask Sergio Garcia and Colin Montgomerie, to name a few -- although Woods has tried to make it look that way.

"You expect him to always be there," Johnson said. "Typically he always is. Finishing and coming through with the win is certainly not easy. ... You know there is a Tiger factor. For me, there always will be because we're the same age. In the majors, you expect him to be there, and clearly he will be at some point. I don't know why he didn't come through. It's good to know he's human, I guess."

The birth of his first child in June, the hosting of his own golf tournament in Washington, D.C., in July, a British Open in which he seemed out of sorts. Maybe, for once, Woods did not have the time to prepare.

All of that talk seemed to vanish Sunday when Woods shot 65 without a bogey and went from one behind to eight ahead. For the week, he led the field in driving distance, bombing it 335 yards off the tee. He led the field in greens in regulation. He seemingly never missed a putt.

Suddenly, the aura had returned.

"The display he put on sends a pretty evil message to the rest of the field," said six-time major champion Nick Faldo. "He's back in control of his game, his mind, his emotions, everything."

What he really wants is to grasp the Wanamaker Trophy.

And if that happens, a good year turns to great.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com