PITTSFORD -- Tiger Woods is the clear favorite at this week's PGA Championship. He played like a contender early in the tourney at Oak Hill's famed East Course this morning, turning his first nine (the back nine on the course) in 2-under par 33 to sit two shots off the lead in the year's last men's major.
Woods had a methodical, largely mistake-free nine. He was not particularly strong with his approaches. But he made several of the medium-length putts that keep a player in the hunt on a tough layout like Oak Hill. Woods made seven pars and two birdies. Avoiding bogey will win you a lot of majors.
Last week at the Bridgestone, Woods' short game was on fire. He made almost every putt early in the tournament to pull away from the field. It was a promising sign when he knocked home an 8-foot par putt on his first hole Thursday. He made a similar putt for one of his birdies on the par-3 15th hole.
There was one spectacular moment on the first nine. On the par-5 13th, a 598-yard monster, Woods decided to hit iron off the tee and put his second shot in good position to knock a short iron close. He nearly holed it and made an easy birdie.
Woods, playing in a group with fellow former PGA champs Davis Love III and Keegan Bradley, made a couple of nice up-and-downs. His touch around the greens is exquisite these days. He nearly chipped in from the rough and made par on the 11th. He blasted it to 5 feet out of a trap on the 17th and made par. He chipped on and made par on the 18th.
Of course, Woods has been terrific in a lot of majors on Thursday and Friday since he last won one in 2008. He has consistently faded on the weekends, though. So there's a long way to go for Tiger. But it's a good start.
--- Jerry Sullivan