CHASKA, Minn. – The question came from left field and was instantly met with the iciest of stares, the kind that normally precedes a clutch birdie putt from the world's greatest golfer.
Does Tiger Woods choke?
Perhaps on another day the questioner would have met with a more sympathetic response than the chilling glare and disdainful silence that he received. Probably not, but maybe.
But at the end of an afternoon when Woods had gone head-to-head with treacherous winds to carve out a four-stroke lead and effectively put the PGA Championship to bed, he was never going to be in a mood to cut any slack in his post-round media conference.
Perhaps the man with the microphone was just voicing his wishes out loud. Because the best thing that could happen to this tournament as a spectacle would be a Tiger-choke, an uncharacteristic mental seize that brings him back to the field.
It won't happen, of course, because this thing is already in the books. Whereas a month ago, golf witnessed one of its most thrilling majors ever, the seesawing battle on the links of Turnberry that capped a memorable British Open, this event turned into an exhibition on Friday.
What an exhibition it was, though, with Woods crafting his own masterpiece of a round with 70 deft brushstrokes. Nevertheless, it has become one of those weeks, one of inevitability, where watching golf becomes about appreciation of genius rather than drama.
Woods has never let a 36-hole lead slip in a major and Jack Nicklaus can now hear those Tigerish paws thumping up behind him. Number 15 is almost here, then three more to go to catch the Golden Bear.
“In order to have a lead in a major championship you can't be playing poorly,” said Woods. “All the times that I've been in this position, I've played well. So it's just a matter of continuing what I have been doing this week and I am pleased with my execution. It has been a very difficult day.”
It was difficult alright, especially once the whipping Minnesota winds starting playing up early in the afternoon.
The difference is that for anyone else a difficult day means hooks and shanks and a fall from contention. For Woods, it means he gets a little annoyed while kicking everyone's butt.
Padraig Harrington tried everything he could to keep pace, fighting hard to stay in contention, but the gap just kept on growing. Woods ended up 7-under, with Harrington, Vijay Singh, Brendan Jones, Ross Fisher and Lucas Glover tied at 3-under.
This wasn't one of Woods' most elegant rounds, but it was one of his most intriguing, turning into a battle of wills – not with a human opponent – but with the conditions. The approach was one of classic bloody-mindedness, like the gales were a personal affront to him.
“It's just one of those days,” said Woods. “You're going to make mistakes out there. Sometimes it is going to be your fault. Sometimes it is going to be bad timing on the wind.
“You can't afford to miss your opportunities.”
Opportunity is an important word to Woods just now. Coming back from eight months out after knee surgery he has stormed to five wins on the PGA Tour but has this week as his final crack at landing a major in 2009.
It has been suggested that the pressure may be a burden, presumably by those who forget that if pressure was a condiment he'd pour it on a hot dog and gulp it down with relish.
Harrington, who spent two days at close quarters with Woods here and was also paired with him in the final round of last week's WGC Bridgestone Invitational, doesn't hold out much hope of a slip-up from the world No.1.
“He's good in that position because of the fact he is a good front runner,” said Harrington. “He can pick and choose his shots and he is not pushed into anything. He waits for his chances and we know that he will probably break par twice on the weekend so it's a huge challenge for anyone else.
“I think his perfect record when leading after 36 holes has got to break at some stage – or I might as well tell myself that. Maybe it will last until he is 60, but it’s never going to last forever. Maybe I'll be the guy who does it, I suppose that’s the way to look at it.”
If anyone was going to have confidence of overhauling Woods it should be Harrington, a three-time major winner and defending champion here.
But the Irishman knew he was speaking in hope rather than expectation, and as he left the podium you felt more than ever that two days in, this tournament is done.
Unless, of course, Tiger chokes.