ST. LOUIS — Who knows what time Tiger Woods woke up on Saturday morning, but like all of those who had to finish the second round, it was in the dark.
And the degree of time needed to prepare for a long day of golf at the PGA Championship is undoubtedly tied to the myriad maladies associated with the player.
For Woods, that meant stirring hours before the 7 a.m. local tee time to go through a stretching and therapy routine that is required of a guy who has had four back surgeries.
Ten and a half hours and 29 holes after he hit his first shot of the day, Woods finds himself again in contention at a major championship, four strokes back of leader Brooks Koepka in a tie for sixth.
It’s similar to last month at Carnoustie, where Woods also trailed by four heading into the final, held the lead with eight holes to go and eventually tied for sixth, three strokes behind winner Francesco Molinari.
How much of a chance does Woods have to win for the first time in five years and capture his 15th major title?
Well, it depends on how you look at it. Here are some positive and not-so-positive ways to view Woods’ plight in the final round at Bellerive Country Club.
Why he won’t win
1. Woods played his tail off Saturday, hitting 15 of 18 greens and making five birdies. He said so many times he felt the yardage he had into a green matched up nicely with the club he wanted to hit, meaning full, fluid shots. He gave himself numerous chances — and didn’t convert enough of them.
Woods had six putts of 20 feet or shorter for birdie on the back nine and made none. That includes a 4-foot miss after missing a 20-footer for eagle on No. 17. It was a massively squandered opportunity, one that could easily have seen him grouped with Koepka in the final pairing.
The problem is it is a lot to ask for Woods to hit the ball that well again and give himself those kind of opportunities. Four strokes down, he can afford no lapses, especially with Adam Scott, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland also chasing Koepka in front of him.
2. Tiger keeps showing a frustrating inability to finish off rounds, whether he’s in contention or simply putting together a good score. Innisbrook, Bay Hill, TPC Sawgrass, Muirfield Village, TPC Potomac, Carnoustie. It has happened in some form at all of those tournaments, and it happened again on Saturday at Bellerive.
Woods shot 31 on the front and was primed to shoot 65 or lower and couldn’t do it. At The Open after taking the lead on the back nine, he went double-bogey and bogey before playing the last six holes in 1 under. It is a trend he has yet to buck.
3. He has never come from behind to win a major. It’s hard enough at age 42 for Woods to win a major championship. It is even more difficult trying to catch Koepka, who looks rock-solid and has won consecutive U.S. Opens. Koepka appears fearless with the driver. That greatly shortens the golf course. Tiger’s driver still remains a liability. Then there’s Scott, Rahm, Fowler, Woodland, Stewart Cink, Jason Day and Justin Thomas to contend with, as well. A lot needs to go right.
After playing 29 holes on Saturday, Tiger Woods says the mental aspect of playing the course has been tiring and he’ll need to shoot a low round Sunday to contend.
Why he will win
1. For all the talk earlier in the week about Woods’ physical well-being, it has seemingly not been an issue. After the slow start on Thursday saw him play the first two holes in 3 over par, he has played the remaining 52 holes in 11 under. Although his driver gives him fits at time, he is still hitting his irons well enough to give himself chances, and he is due for a hot putting round that would take advantage of such success.
2. Woods has been building toward this. He has now been in contention or on the fringe of it several times, including at The Open, the Quicken Loans National, the Players, the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Valspar Championship. He has posted four top-10s and should be feeling more comfortable in such situations. He was in almost exactly the same position three weeks ago at Carnoustie — tied for sixth, four back — and put himself in the lead on the back nine. Why can’t he do it again?
3. While Woods has never come from behind in a major, that stat is almost fluky. For most of the time he was winning his 14 majors, Tiger was a supreme player who got out front and didn’t make mistakes. And yet, there were times he fell behind during the final round and still won. He has won tour events from behind, several from more than 4 strokes. Maybe the way it gets done now is for Woods to go out and shoot 63 and have the others unable to touch him. Now wouldn’t that be some way to win his first major in 10 years?