Tiger Plays Way Out of Contention

By Golf Channel NewsroomAugust 16, 2003, 4:00 pm
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) -- The scowl was gone, replaced by a smile of resignation. Tiger Woods spent enough time hacking it out of the rough Saturday that reality was finally setting in.
He wasn't going to win the PGA Championship. Even worse, for the first time since 1998, he was going to be shut out in major championships.
Just a few years ago, it would have been unthinkable. Now, even Woods seemed to be conceding an era where he dominated every time he teed it up might be over.
'It won't be the last time and it certainly has not been the first time,' Woods said. 'You're going to go years where you just don't win.'
One of those years effectively ended for Woods on the front nine Saturday at Oak Hill, where he couldn't find the fairway off the tee no matter what club he used. Time after time, he was forced to slash out of the deep rough with a wedge, then try somehow to salvage a par.
Woods did it enough to keep from being totally embarrassed, but on a day he needed to make a bunch of birdies, he was going the wrong way fast.
Woods ended up with a 3-over 73 that left him at 9-over-par and well back, but he didn't need to look at the scoreboard to see he was losing ground.
The gallery that kept trying to find something to get him going reminded him on every hole.
'I kept hearing as I was going up to a lot of the tee boxes today, 'Nice par, great par,'' Woods said. 'Just kind of the way it's been.'
Woods had come to Oak Hill hoping to break a string of five major championships without a win. But he never really contended, opening with rounds of 74 and 72 where he made only one birdie each day.
He made two on Saturday, but both came late and merely helped make it easier for the standard bearer to display his score in single digits. At one point Woods was 10 over par, a figure that drew gasps from fans lining the fairway as he went by.
'I just haven't made enough birdies. ... My positive momentum is just making par putts,' said Woods, who went 27 holes without a birdie before making one on the 14th hole. 'That's just not going to get it done.'
Woods will leave Sunday with a lot to think about between now and the Masters next spring -- including questions about how he could go from winning seven of 11 majors through last year's U.S. Open to not winning in the six since.
'I get asked that question a lot and, granted, those are the biggest events,' Woods said. 'Obviously, we want to perform in them. I just haven't quite won one yet.'
Some of Woods' fellow players say the problem isn't that he hasn't won in recent majors, but that he set expectations so high when he was dominating them.
'What Tiger did was make us think that it was easy to win major championships because he played so great,' Hal Sutton said. 'But it is not easy to win major championships even at his level.'
Especially if you spend the first 54 holes taking huge swings at balls buried deep in the wet, gnarly rough.
Woods hit only two fairways on each nine Saturday, and it wasn't just because he was mishitting his driver. The 3-wood wasn't much better, and Woods even hit a 2-iron off the tee into the nasty stuff on No. 2.
'When you get on a golf course this hard, if you're just a little off, that's all it takes,' said Woods, who called Oak Hill the 'hardest, fairest' course he's ever played.
It became a familiar scene -- Woods with a wedge in his hand swinging wildly to advance the ball back into the fairway, then trying to figure out a way to make par from the fairway.
All the talent in the world isn't going to conquer six-inch-high rough.
'Even Tiger Woods can't play from this rough,' playing partner Jim Furyk said.
If Woods wasn't putting so well, he might have had trouble breaking 80. He chipped in once and one-putted eight times Saturday If he wasn't trying so hard, it could have gotten real ugly.
'I have really grinded. I have fought every, every inch of the way,' Woods said. 'If I would have bagged it in, I could have shot a million, but that's not the way I play.'
The fans crowding the fairways and greens appreciated the effort, even if the applause was more sympathetic than anything else.
They knew by looking at the scoreboard that any chance Woods has of winning is long gone, even if Woods himself was still hanging onto a thread of hope.
'You never know,' Woods said. 'You can shoot a great round. It's going to take one of those great rounds of golf. I've shot low rounds before.'
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