Tiger Woods centre of attention at Baltusrol
His rivals are not prepared to concede this week's U.S. PGA Championship to Tiger Woods, but very few are willing to bet against the world number one adding a third major trophy to his haul for the year.
When Woods tees off in Thursday's opening round at Baltusrol Golf Club's Lower Course, he will be bidding to become the only professional to win three of the game's four majors in a season on two occasions.
"Tiger at 2-1, with the record he's had in the majors this year, it's hard to disagree with that," Britain's Darren Clarke said after examining the odds.
A four-times winner this season, including victories at the U.S. Masters and British Open and a second place at the U.S. Open, Woods has emerged from a lengthy swing overhaul with his confidence high and the game's top ranking reclaimed.
However, his performances in 2005 have not reflected the aura of invincibility he enjoyed when he was in his pomp from late 1999 up to the 2001 Masters, when he held all four major titles.
"I think we'd all agree that his best stretch of golf up until now was '99 and 2000 when he won six (tournaments) in a row and seemed to just lap the field," said Lee Janzen, winner of the 1993 U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
"There definitely was a perception if he was in the field he was going to win, at that time.
"I think the perception now is that he is still the guy to beat, but I don't believe guys think it's a given that he is going to win. But he is definitely the player to beat.
"When he would throw up a low score the first day at, say, the U.S. Open in 2000, I think most guys in the field thought it was over even before they teed off."
Three second-place finishes this year and a missed cut at the Byron Nelson that ended his record run of 142 consecutive PGA Tour cuts have given Woods's rivals hope that he has not yet achieved the domination he seeks.
Over the years, his opponents have learned much watching him but perhaps more significant is what 10-times major winner Woods has learned about himself -- that he is beatable.
"I think in 2000 he was unbeatable because he probably believed he was unbeatable," said Ireland's Padraig Harrington.
"In 2000, he had a certain confidence about him, and when you've had some highs and lows since then, obviously some of that confidence is gone.
"He's a different player now, I think that's probably the only way you could describe it.
"I'm sure he could be a better player in certain ways, but the rest of the field improved and caught up with him."
Even Woods concedes the atmosphere surrounding his re-emergence has not reached the hysterical level it did in 2000 when one steely glance from the focused American would set nerves jangling and rounds crumbling.
New Zealand's Michael Campbell, who denied Woods a chance of securing a calendar grand slam by holding him off to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, sees no reason why he cannot triumph again this week at Baltusrol.
"Obviously Tiger is the favourite this week but I showed to everybody and to the rest of the world that he was beatable two months ago," said Campbell.
"He was favoured to win the U.S. Open at Pinehurst but I managed to knock him off his pedestal for a week, which is nice.
"He came back strong two weeks later for the (British) Open at St. Andrews, but I would not say it's a two-horse race here (between Woods and world number two Vijay Singh.
"I think it's more of an open field."
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