AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - The dust had barely settled after Tiger Woods coasted to a seven-shot victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday when questions were raised about his hunger to end a five-year title drought in the majors.
Woods has not landed one of golf’s big four events since his remarkable playoff win at the 2008 U.S. Open, though he will go into next week’s PGA Championship at Oak Hill as a heavy favourite after his dominant display at Firestone Country Club.
The world number one was certainly in a class of his own as he spread-eagled a top-quality field at the World Golf Championships event, a sizzling nine-under-par 61 on Friday when he flirted with a magical 59 that effectively ending the tournament.
However, Woods has triumphed several times on the PGA Tour in recent years on his final start going into a major, only to fall short in his bid to increase his career tally of 14 victories in golf’s blue riband events.
Asked by reporters if his hunger for the majors had increased with each missed opportunity over the past five years, Woods replied: ”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 are four of them a year and next week, it’s important for me to get some rest come Monday and Tuesday.
“Come Thursday I’ve got a great pairing with Keegan and Davis. Basically just try and get a feel for the golf course and how it’s playing.”
Woods, a four-times winner of the PGA Championship, has been paired with former champions Keegan Bradley and Davis Love III in Thursday’s opening round at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York.
“Do I want it (a major win) any more? No, it’s the same,” said Woods, who has clinched a major only four of 19 times after winning on his previous PGA Tour start, most recently at the 2007 PGA Championship.
‘Each and every major, I always want them. I’ve been successful 14 times, and hopefully next week will be 15.”
Perhaps the biggest boost for Woods at Firestone, where he closed with a level-par 70 for a 15-under total of 265 to earn a record eighth Bridgestone Invitational title was the quality of iron play all week.
Woods felt that department of his game was just as sharp as it had been in last month’s British Open at Muirfield where his title bid was ultimately undone by poor putting.
”I felt like this week, it’s a continuation of the British Open,“ the 37-year-old American said. ”I hit it really good there, I just didn’t make anything (on the greens) after the first day.
“Once the speed (of the greens) started changing, I didn’t adjust to it very well, and consequently I didn’t win the tournament.”
Woods ended up sixth at Muirfield after battling to a three-over-par 74 in the final round.
”I felt like I had the same type of control this week as I did at the British Open,“ Woods said. ”Only difference is I had one hot putting day here, and the last two days I didn’t really need to.
“I had a big lead and just had to make sure my speed was good and protect that with pars. But ball-striking wise I feel after coming off my injury at the U.S. Open very proud of what I’ve been able to do the last two tournaments.”
Apart from putting, the Achilles’ heel for Woods at the majors in recent years has mainly been his driving accuracy but he performed relatively well in that area at Firestone on a long and challenging layout.
Bradley, who played with Woods during Saturday’s third round when the world number one preserved his seven-stroke advantage by shooting a 68, has been mightily impressed.
”He’s playing very well,“ said Bradley, who ended up in a tie for second on his title defence at Firestone. ”It’s very tough to give Tiger that many shots. The round he shot on Friday was pretty special.
”You know, I hate to sit here and go on and on about how good he is, but he is. Any time you defend a title it’s a little stressful, and in my eyes I almost won. I almost defended, considering what Tiger is doing.
“But I really enjoy playing with Tiger. He’s super great to me, and I look forward to playing with him and Davis in the PGA next week.”
The PGA Championship will be played at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York from August 8-11. (Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes; Editing by Julian Linden)