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Peerless Tiger the player to beat at Medinah

The world No. 1 has produced unrivalled form winning last month's British Open by two shots and clinching his 50th PGA Tour victory at the Buick Open.

india Updated: Aug 11, 2006 12:37 IST

Tiger Woods goes into next week's PGA Championship as the red-hot favourite, even though the final major of the year has often thrown up a surprise winner.

The world number one has produced peerless form in his last two starts, winning last month's British Open by two shots and clinching his 50th PGA Tour victory at the Buick Open on Sunday.

Every component of his game appears to be in near-perfect order.

His distance control with irons has been superlative, his putting is back to its very best and even his driving accuracy, so often his Achilles' heel, has been impressive.

According to his caddie Steve Williams, Woods has never swung the club better and he is unquestionably the player to beat at Medinah Country Club in Illinois in the minds of his rivals.

"He has a knack of being able to finish off golf tournaments," fellow American Jim Furyk said after having to settle for second place behind Woods at Warwick hills Golf and Country club last week.

"He puts himself in position a lot, and when he gets there, more often than not, he ends up winning the golf tournament.

"He's the guy to go out there and beat and it's exciting for me to go out, or for the other players to go out, and try to apply some pressure."

Twice US Open champion Retief Goosen agrees, "Obviously he's the guy to beat, like we know every week. He's really on top of his game at the moment."

Woods has won five times in 12 worldwide starts this year, a remarkable statistic given that he took nine weeks off after the Masters in early April to deal with the illness and death of his father Earl.

His father, who had been battling prostate cancer since 1998, died on May 3 and his grieving son did not return to tournament golf until the US Open at Winged Foot in mid-June.

Hardly surprisingly, Woods made a premature exit there by missing the cut in a major championship for the first time as a professional.

Since then, though, he has flourished, tying for second at the Western Open and coasting to victory in his next two starts at the British Open and the Buick.

Although he desperately misses his father, with whom he shared a particularly close bond, his hunger to acquire more major titles is probably stronger now than ever before.

He broke down in tears after claiming his 11th career major at Hoylake, mainly because he had failed to win the Masters three months earlier when his father was still alive.

"The British Open was something that really hit home pretty hard because Augusta hurt a lot more than any tournament I played in," Woods recalled of his tie for third place at the Masters.

"My dad would never watch me in another major tournament again and I knew that. I had an opportunity on the back nine and didn't get it done. He never saw me play again."

"So winning the British Open, a major championship, two majors later, was a huge thing for me. I just wish I could have done it two major championships earlier."

One other factor playing into Woods's hands next week is that he won the PGA Championship the last time it was staged at Medinah in 1999, and his rivals will certainly be mindful of that.

However, it is worth remembering the season's final major was won in consecutive years by unheralded Americans Rich Beem (2002) and Shaun Micheel (2003), underlining that any player in the field is capable of victory if his game in on song that particular week.

Phil Mickelson, who won last year's PGA Championship at Baltusrol, will fancy his chances at Medinah, as will twice winner Vijay Singh and the in-form Jim Furyk, who has finished no worse than tied for fourth in his last four PGA Tour starts.

Medinah's No. 3 Course will become the longest in major history next week at 7,561 yards but Mickelson believes the shorter hitters will not be marginalised at the Aug. 17-20 tournament.

"It doesn't favour any one style of player," the world number two said. "You have a huge advantage if you hit the ball short but in play, and you have a big advantage if you're able to drive the ball long and have shorter shots into the greens, provided again you're in play.

"Medinah is open for great play from any style of player."