Woods favorite as PGA opens

He returns to course where he won in '99

August 17, 2006|By THOMAS BONK | THOMAS BONK,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MEDINAH, Ill. -- Just to prove it's a numbers game, here comes the 88th PGA Championship, starting today, worth at least $6.5 million, with at least $1.17 million to the winner. The top 10 players in the world are at Medinah Country Club, the suburban Chicago layout, hosting its fifth major championship.

And the one to watch is still Tiger Woods.

His numbers are off the charts: $5.1 million, No. 1 ranked for the 404th week, four victories this year, 50 for his career, two wins and a tie for second in his past three tournaments, PGA Tour leader this year in earnings, scoring, greens in regulation, birdie average and closest to the hole.

All that and he's coming back to Medinah Country Club, where a 23-year-old Woods won the 1999 PGA Championship, his second major victory. He won his 11th a month ago at the British Open at Royal Liverpool. Now, Woods is once again regarded as the player most likely to succeed.

"He's the best iron player in the world," said Tom Lehman, the U.S. Ryder Cup captain. "He's also the best par putter in the world."

But that doesn't mean Woods is safe this week as the year's final major championship takes place at Medinah, a project from the 1920s about 35 minutes west of Lake Michigan. The 60,000-square-foot clubhouse, with a 60-foot-high rotunda, has plenty of room for Woods and the rest of the challengers to stretch out in.

Chances are no one will find Medinah a pushover, not after its makeover by Rees Jones. The architect increased Medinah's yardage to 7,561 yards, making it the longest course in major-championship golf.

Here are some of Woods' top challengers:

No. 2 in the world, Phil Mickelson. No factor at the British Open, Mickelson has still won twice this year, including the Masters, and he's fourth in scoring (69.37), fourth in putting and third in earnings with $4.1 million.

No. 3, Vijay Singh. His grip on the third spot in the rankings is slipping, but he's still playing well. Other than missing the cut at the British Open, Singh went win, tie for sixth and tie for third, in succession, at the Barclays Classic, the U.S. Open and the Western Open.

No. 4, Jim Furyk. If not for Woods, he would clearly be the most consistent player, starting at the U.S. Open, where he tied for second. He tied for fourth at the Western, was fourth again at the British Open and was second (to Woods) at the Buick Open.

No. 5, Retief Goosen. It has been a down year, after a second at the Players Championship and a tie for third at the Masters. He missed the cut at the U.S. Open and didn't contend at the British Open.

No. 6, Adam Scott. Tied for eighth at the British Open and has six top 10s in 13 PGA Tour events. Third in scoring (69.16), he averages 300.8 yards off the tee to rank 13th and is a solid 18th in greens in regulation.

No. 7, Ernie Els. He turns 37 in October and hasn't done much on the PGA Tour since he tied for seventh at the Verizon in April, but he might have found his rhythm at the British Open, where he was third.

Thomas Bonk writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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