Tiger Woods may be atop the 2013 money leaders. He may be nearly 1,000 cup points above the second-placed Matt Kuchar. But he is still without that highly coveted 15th major Title. The PGA Championship beginning August 8 is Woods’ last chance in 2013 for his first major title since 2008.
Woods is just a few days removed from a superb performance at the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational where he finished seven under par and nearly set a record on day two. He shot a 61, nine under par — tying both his personal and a course record. With that performance, he is primed for a good showing at the PGA Championship.
However, that has been the story all season long. Woods has enjoyed a great year with five wins in total and has entered every major as the favorite to win. But all he has to show for this are two top-ten finishes and a 32nd-place finish at the U.S. Open. Woods has earned just $648,623 of his total $7,659,119 in major events this year.
In late March, Woods finished the Arnold Palmer Invitational 13-under-par for his third win of the season. It was also the last time Woods won leading up to a major event. But two weeks later, Woods finished fourth at the Masters. So perhaps now, coming off a great win on Sunday, the even shorter layoff will help Woods stay hot.
If Woods falls short at Oak Hill, it will be a long layoff between now and the first major of 2014. It won’t be easy: the rest of the field is going to be ready to play Thursday — especially knowing the PGA carries some of the most rewarding perks golf has to offer. These include automatic invites to the other three major events for the following five years, as well as an exemption from having to qualify for the PGA Championship for the rest of his life. While these perks aren’t as lucrative for someone like Woods, whose career is secure and has already won the PGA Championship, it’s a great way to end the year for those less-established.
With that in mind, a player like Henrik Stenson of Sweden is a prime candidate to win this weekend. The 37-year-old has two straight second-place finishes, one of which was the Open Championship at Muirfield last month. And his eight-under-par performance was only bettered by Woods’ performance over the weekend at the World Golf Championships. Stenson has never won a major title, but he has never played as well as he has been of late. The pressure will be high, but a PGA Championship win for Stenson would keep the Swede in competition for years to come.
Phil Mickelson, too, deserves major respect coming into the final major of the year. Outside of a rare bad showing at the Masters in April, Lefty has been right at the top of both other majors this year. A bad round four at the U.S. Open in June hampered his chances of a first-place finish. But the fourth round at the Open Championship in July proved to be critical in Mickelson’s first major win of the year: he shot a 66 to surge to the top and take home the Claret Jug.
As always, all eyes will be on Woods. But there are some strong candidates around besides him to take home 2013’s final major.