As golf-crazy as I am, most of the non-major tournaments on the PGA Tour aren’t on my “must watch” list.
I’m just not that interested in watching Hunter Mahan or Nick Watney or J.B. Holmes win a tournament that doesn’t have all the best players in the world competing. If you’re not handing over the green jacket or Claret Jug, it’s usually ho-hum TV.
Today, though, could be different.
They’re playing the final round of Arnold Palmer’s invitational in Orlando and Tiger Woods is in the last group. Generally, when Tiger’s in the final group, that means he’s going to win. That’s usually because he’s ahead by four shots and no one can catch him. This afternoon at Bay Hill, Sean O’Hair will have to cough up a 5-stroke lead if Woods is going to win. Going into the final round, O’Hair (-7) is running away with the event. Woods (-2) will tee it up with O’Hair but is it realistic that T.W. can climb back into it — enough, at least, to make the back nine worth watching?
First off, O’Hair is a terrific player. Even before this week, I was touting him as one of my picks for the Masters in two weeks. That he’s five strokes ahead at Bay Hill might be a surprise given the strong field, but his position on top of the leaderboard isn’t a shock at all.
However, there’s a difference between leading a tournament by five shots and leading a tournament by five shots when Tiger Woods is the guy five shots behind and he’s playing in the same group as you on the final day. Jason Gore, Ryuji Amada and Zach Johnson are all at -1 — and one of those guys could put together a great final round and work their way back into it. But most people are assuming it’s going to be an O’Hair-Tiger shootout. Gore, by the way, would have been in the final group and within shouting distance at three-under if not for a 3-jack from 5-feet at 18 yesterday. Even Al Czervik of Caddyshack fame wouldn’t have three-whacked it from there. Sometimes we watch the PGA Tour and see stuff like Gore’s 3-putt from five feet and we remember those guys have demons hanging around them too.
I’m sure Tiger is plotting some kind of final round strategy since five shots – against great players – is extremely tough to overcome unless your opponent has a bad day. In Woods’ case, I assume he’s saying to himself, “If I can be within 3 shots going to the back nine…I’ve given myself a chance.” My guess is that Tiger will have to shoot a minimum of 67 to have a chance at winning. That would put him at -5 for the tournament. O’Hair might back up a hair (been waiting to use that) but I don’t think he’s going to have one of those Greg Norman Sunday throw-up-sessions where he fires a 78 and limps in tied for 7th. I just don’t see it.
Today’s final round has it all. Tiger’s playing, and in the final group, which automatically makes it worth watching since you never quite know what the guy is going to do. He could shoot 59 today and win by 12. Would you be surprised? I wouldn’t. The issue of O’Hair owning a 5-shot overnight lead will be worth watching too. How does he handle it? I like the kid’s game so I’m sort of hoping he holds on and plays well – in Tiger’s shadow and all. These are the days that make good players great.