Friday, February 10, 2012
Updated: February 12, 1:36 AM ET
Will Tiger Woods pull off Pebble win?
Do the names Spencer Levin and Kyle Stanley mean anything to you? The last two weeks -- Levin in Phoenix and Stanley at Torrey Pines -- saw both players trying to earn their first PGA Tour win under the glaring spotlight of national TV. And both saw themselves implode, although Stanley rebounded the next week to win as Levin crashed back to earth.
Well, Sunday at Pebble Beach, Charlie Wi gets to face that same pressure as he attempts to earn his first PGA Tour victory. Except Wi gets to do it with Tiger Woods closing fast in the rearview mirror.
Our scribes on the ground in Northern California share their insight into what we can expect come Sunday evening along the Pacific coast.
1. What one part of Tiger's game does he have to focus on most to win Sunday?
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Driving. It all starts there. Woods has hit 30 of 41 fairways for the week to rank tied for 23rd in the tournament, a number that is good enough to win. Giving himself opportunities to hit greens and hit it close is the key to success on Sunday. You can't do that from the rough.
Ron Kroichick, San Francisco Chronicle golf writer: The part between his ears. Tiger thinks his way around the golf course better than most players, as he did in shooting 67 on Saturday despite ordinary ballstriking. If he keeps the ball below the hole, he will give himself plenty of chances to chase down his first official victory in nearly two-and-a-half years.
Sarah Turcotte, ESPN The Magazine senior writer: Putting is key for anyone in the hunt on a Sunday.
Gene Wojciechowski, ESPN.com senior national columnist: His putter saved him on Saturday. His putter will determine if he wins this thing on Sunday. The rest of his game seems in solid shape.
2. We've seen some dramatic Sunday collapses in recent weeks on the PGA Tour. What does Charlie Wi have to do to avoid that type of letdown?
Bob Harig: Not get ahead of himself. He admitted that's been a problem. And we saw, especially last week, that a changed routine or dealing with a bit of adversity is all it takes to disrupt a final round, even with a lead.
Ron Kroichick: Remember that he's not Kyle Stanley or Spencer Levin. Those guys are promising young players who had no professional wins when they collapsed. Wi has nine international wins -- including a European Tour victory in 2006 in Malaysia, where he conquered a field including Padraig Harrington, Francesco Molinari and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
Sarah Turcotte: Man, that's tough. These guys are pros. They have psychologists to answer that kind of stuff. I guess taking it one hole at a time and not spending too much time staring at the leaderboard.
Gene Wojciechowski: This will be only the second 54-hole lead of his pro career. What does he have to do? Control his nerves. No small thing, given that he didn't hold onto that first 54-hole lead at Colonial last year.
3. How many golfers have a realistic shot to win Sunday?
Bob Harig: There are eight players within six shots of the lead, and while someone from further back can shoot a low round, it is unrealistic to think that someone within that top eight won't go low enough to win.
Ron Kroichick: Eight. The players who are tied for ninth (at 8-under) must pass too many players to win. The players at 9-under have an outside chance, if Wi backs up.
Sarah Turcotte: Anyone within five strokes has a shot. You never know what you're going to get at Pebble.
Gene Wojciechowski: Lots. Tiger ... Wi ... Phil Mickelson ... Kevin Na ... Dustin Johnson ... Hunter Mahan ... Ricky Barnes. And I could go on and on.
4. Does Tiger get his first official victory since November 2009 on Sunday, and if not, who does?
Bob Harig: No. I'm sticking with Dustin Johnson. He missed a good opportunity at Monterey Peninsula, shooting just even-par 70 on the easiest course in the rotation. But he's been solid at Pebble and is lurking, six strokes off the lead. I like him to rally for the victory.
Ron Kroichick: Tiger will play well and make a run, but Wi merely needs to play solid -- say, 69 or 70 -- to prevail. It says here Wi -- a better player than most fans realize and an excellent putter -- will pull it off.
Sarah Turcotte: I guess I'll take the unpopular opinion. Charlie Wi has been steady all week when most of us assumed he'd fall out of contention. He can hang on.
Gene Wojciechowski: Four strokes behind Wi, one behind second-place Ken Duke? Put it this way: Woods is positioned perfectly for career tour win No. 72. If he doesn't, I'm sticking with my Friday pick, D.J.