PGA looms for Tiger Woods after win

AKRON, Ohio -- You might have put together an interesting wager Sunday on how long it would take for the subject of this week's PGA Championship to come up after Tiger Woods' victory.

Such is the nature of Woods' world these days that winning tournaments outside of the majors, even big ones such as the World Golf Championship title he captured, seemingly matter little. That pesky Firestone Country Club is scoffed at as if it were some muni.

Perhaps Woods has himself to blame for this plight, given the importance he has long put on the major championships -- and his inability to win one since his self-inflicted personal woes derailed his career four years ago, stalling him at 14 majors.

And yet, if winning the "little ones" is so easily diminished, why doesn't everyone win them with such frequency? And why is it suddenly so popular to cheapen these victories?

Woods' triumph Sunday at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was his fifth of the season, three more than any other player on the PGA Tour -- and two more than the worldwide total of Phil Mickelson, who captured the Open Championship two weeks ago.

Almost certainly, Woods would trade his five wins in 2013 for the Claret Jug that Mickelson is proudly and deservedly showcasing. But, short of that, what is he to do but the best he can in the tournaments he plays?

His wins this season include two WGCs and the Players, considered among the best fields of the season. No, they're not major championships, but they are not missing any of the top players Woods faced at the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship, at which he did manage two finishes among the top six.

Apparently, the list of career accomplishments he continues to pile up is of no consequence to those who are impressed exclusively by major titles. His victory at Firestone was his 18th WGC title (nobody else has more than three). It was his eighth win in the past two seasons (nobody else has more than five). It was his 79th career PGA Tour title, putting him within three of the all-time leader, Sam Snead. (The next-closest active player is Mickelson with 42.)

Woods now has combined to win 32 tournaments that are either major championships or World Golf Championship events.

Obviously, Woods wants to win majors, this week's PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club included. And it is fair to wonder why he's struggled to get it done on weekends, especially in the past two seasons since his game returned to previous levels that saw him winning again.

Twice last season, Woods was the 36-hole leader at majors -- the U.S. Open and PGA Championship -- and was not a back-nine contender on Sunday. He was in the mix at the Masters this season, doomed by the flagstick/drop scenario in the second round that turned a possible birdie into a triple-bogey. Two weeks ago at the Open, he was in position to take the 54-hole lead, then made a sloppy bogey at the par-5 17th to fall two behind and never got closer the final day.

"You all heard me talk about how good I thought he was there," said Graeme McDowell, who played with Woods during the first two rounds at Muirfield. "Why is he not getting the job done on Sundays? I think everyone has gotten better around him. It's hard to win week in and week out, especially majors.

"He's still awesome, though. He's still got the game."

McDowell raved about Woods' ball-striking through two rounds at Muirfield, and, aside from an indifferent Saturday round here in Ohio, Woods was solid on that front again. For the week, he tied for 11th in fairways hit and second in greens in regulation, finding 53 of 72. He took 33 putts on Sunday, which is the only troubling sign coming off an otherwise impressive week. And it's hard to even find fault with that, given he had a big lead that was never threatened.

Trying to find much meaning in such a win heading into a major is difficult. It is the fourth time in the past two seasons he has won in his last start prior to a major. For his career, he has now won 20 times heading into a major championship, with just four previous victories. Then again, winning four majors, period, is impressive. It also means he's won 10 of them without a victory going in. Read into it what you want, but it never hurts to have form and confidence when a major looms.

Keegan Bradley, the defending champion at Firestone who tied for second with Henrik Stenson, talked afterward about how he loved seeing the big-winning Tiger when he followed the game from afar.

"When I was younger I did, yeah," he said. "I got to play with Tiger yesterday. He's playing very well, and it's tough to give Tiger that many shots. The round he shot on Friday [61] was pretty special. I hate to sit here and go on and on about how good he is, but he is."

For the record, it took until just the third question in Woods' post-tournament news conference for the subject of the PGA Championship to be broached, and he got five total queries on the subject.

A week from now, if he is not holding the Wanamaker Trophy, the Bridgestone spoils will be of small consolation.

"I'm looking forward to it," he said. "As far as wanting it more than any other, no. It's the same. Those [are] the events that we try and peak for and try and win. There's four of them a year.

"It's important for me to get some rest come Monday and Tuesday and do some light work. Come Thursday, I've got a great pairing with Keegan and Davis [Love]. Basically just try and get a feel for the golf course and how it's playing. Do I want it any more? Each and every major, I always want them. I've been successful 14 times, and, hopefully, next week will be 15."

For some, that will be all that matters.