Tigers Last Shot at Major Glory in 2007

By Associated PressAugust 7, 2007, 4:00 pm
PGA ChampionshipTULSA, Okla. -- The sun had just begun to cast a pink glow on the edges of morning clouds Tuesday when Tiger Woods stood on the first tee at Southern Hills, his typical pre-dawn start of his practice rounds in the majors.
It is rare when he has to wait on anyone but the maintenance crew.
This PGA Championship is different.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods enjoys a light moment on a hot Tulsa Tuesday. (Getty Images)
With temperatures pushing 100 degrees, Southern Hills was bustling before breakfast with players teeing off on both nines, everyone wanting to finish playing before they were soaked in sweat. The heat is such that the PGA Championship ordered 21 power fans, 50 inches in diameter, to blow cool air on the greens to keep them from getting baked before Thursday.
But the early start also smacked of desperation at the final major of the year, especially for Woods.
This is the fifth time in his career that the world's No. 1 player arrived at the PGA Championship without already having won a major. Only once did he come through, at Medinah in 1999. Despite 67 victories around the world, including four this year on the PGA TOUR, Woods measures success in the four biggest events of the year.
'It's been pretty good, but not great,' he said after his final practice round of the week. 'I just think the major championships are valued that highly, and I've come close. Just haven't got it done yet.'
He hasn't been without his chances.
Woods spent too much time in the trees, the bunkers and the water at Augusta National and finished two shots behind Zach Johnson at the Masters. The only meaningful putts he made on the back nine at Oakmont were for par, and he wound up one shot behind Angel Cabrera in the U.S. Open. And he never hit the ball close at Carnoustie, settling for a tie for 12th at the British Open.
His cumulative score in a year of tough majors is 7 over par, five shots better than the next best player, Jim Furyk.
But no trophies.
Woods, of course, is not alone. Furyk was tied for the lead at Oakmont until taking bogey on the 17th hole of the final round. Retief Goosen couldn't make a birdie on the back nine at the Masters. Ernie Els couldn't catch the leaders at Carnoustie. Phil Mickelson hasn't even made the cut in the last two majors.
Still, most of the attention fall on Woods. He had won the last two majors of 2006 and was closing in fast on the benchmark Jack Nicklaus established of 18 professional majors, but now seems to have stalled.
And even after an eight-shot victory last week at Firestone, there are questions whether his game is a good fit for Southern Hills.
'I tend to get that at courses where I played there once and didn't win,' Woods said, sounding slightly defensive.
He actually has played this Perry Maxwell design twice, although swears the first time was a blur. He was a 20-year-old player who qualified for the TOUR Championship in seven starts over two months. After one round, however, his father was taken to the hospital with chest pains that were related to bronchitis. Woods was a wreck the rest of the week.
Then came the 2001 U.S. Open, when Woods was going after a fifth consecutive major. He hit the ball crooked and wound up seven shots out of the lead in a tie for 12th.
'I like the golf course. I like the layout,' Woods said. 'I just wasn't hitting the ball well. If you don't hit the ball well going into a U.S. Open, you're going to get exposed. And I certainly did. This week, I'm hitting it a little bit better. Hopefully, it will continue.'
Southern Hills is among a few championship courses that are not intrinsically tied to either a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship, because it has hosted both three times.
The fairways are slightly more narrow than they were for the U.S. Open, although the rough is not as thick. Even so, the Bermuda grass doesn't need to be up to the ankles to be brutal, as Bubba Watson discovered.
Golf's biggest hitter had only 270 yards left to the 653-yard fifth hole and hit a 2-iron that faded into the left rough. Spectators were trying to guide him to the ball when one of them said, 'It bounced twice and then I lost it.'
'In this rough?' Watson said.
Then he spotted the ball, unseen from 5 yards away.
Cabrera tied for seventh in 2001 at Southern Hills, and figures his confidence is far greater with a major championship in his possession. The biggest change he noticed was the rough, which he found difficult, but fair.
'Here sometimes when you go into the rough, you have a chance to go for the green -- sometimes,' he said.
That has become the philosophy of the PGA Championship, which most players like because it gives them a chance to play. Unlike the U.S. Open and some spots at Carnoustie, where the only option was to chop it out of the hay, they have an option to go for the green, which could lead to even more trouble.
The biggest difference is the temperature, so hot that the ball is traveling a little farther.
Woods overpowered Firestone last week, although he said he wouldn't need to hit too many drivers at Southern Hills because of how far the ball is going and the subtle bends in the tree-lined fairways. He opted for a 5-iron off the tee on the 366-yard 10th hole that bends right around a cluster of trees, and it still went about 235 yards.
'The ball is flying forever,' Woods said.
The more critical issue is knowing where it's going. Woods wasn't sure in 2001, the last time he was at Southern Hills. He was eager to show at the final major of the year that he knew the way.
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