Glorys Last Shot and What Might Have Been

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PGA of AmericaHis birdie on the final hole was meaningless, and Tiger Woods knew it.

He stood behind the 18th green with a vacant look in his eyes, gently rubbing his knuckles over his upper lip as he contemplated the two holes that cost him a chance to win at Pinehurst No. 2. A poor chip led to bogey on the 16th. A three-putt bogey followed on the 17th.

At the time, all he had lost was the U.S. Open by two shots.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods looks for his third major of 2005 at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
But after a year in which he established anew his supremacy in the majors by winning the Masters and the British Open, Woods' late collapse at Pinehurst looms larger. Take away those two holes, and the final major of the year might have been the grandest of them all.

'I just didn't have a very good putting week,' Woods said. 'It happened at the wrong time.'

Instead of going to the PGA Championship with a shot at the Grand Slam, the best Woods can hope for is to match his 2000 feat of winning three professional majors in one year, something only he and Ben Hogan (1953) have done.

The best he can do at Baltusrol is win his 11th major, moving one step closer to the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus.

Not that he's complaining.

Woods had gone 10 majors without winning, matching the longest drought of his career, until he won the Masters for the fourth time in a sudden-death playoff over Chris DiMarco, then went wire-to-wire at St. Andrews to win his second British Open.

'I'm doing better in the majors now, and that's where you want to perform,' Woods said. 'To have the confidence going into each and every major feeling if I just play my game, I'll be in contention ... that's exciting to be in that kind of feeling, that kind of mode.'

The 87th PGA Championship starts Thursday on the Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., and for everyone else, this major will live up to its moniker -- 'Glory's Last Shot.'

It will be the last chance for Vijay Singh to capture a major, and this is where it all began for the 42-year-old Fijian a year ago. He took advantage of a late collapse by Justin Leonard at Whistling Straits, then made his only birdie of the day to win a three-hole playoff. Singh then won four more times on the PGA Tour to wrest the No. 1 world ranking away from Woods.
 
'I just hope I can follow what I did last year,' Singh said after winning the Buick Open for his fourth victory of the year. 'It's going to be hard. One of the hardest things to do is go out there and win golf tournaments, and as many as I won toward the end of last year, it's going to be almost impossible. But I'm going to give it a shot.'
 
It's one last chance for Phil Mickelson to show last year's magical run through the majors was no accident.
 
A year after winning his first major and coming within five shots of winning them all, Mickelson has slipped into near obscurity in the Grand Slam events -- 10th at the Masters, 33rd at the U.S. Open, 60th at the British Open. The only noise he has made in a major came from a confrontation with Singh over Mickelson's spikes at the Masters.
 
What has gone wrong?
 
'Nothing I would like to go into right now, but I feel like I should be able to get it turned around,' Lefty said.

At least Mickelson has three PGA Tour victories to his credit.

Retief Goosen is still searching for his first victory this year, still trying to prove that the debacle in the final round of the U.S. Open -- losing a three-shot lead by shooting 81 -- was an aberration.

Ernie Els won three times in the first five months -- twice in the Middle East, once in Shanghai -- but will have to watch this PGA Championship from his home in London. Els ruptured ligaments in his left knee while sailing in the Mediterranean and is out for the year, ending his streak of playing in 50 consecutive majors.

They all were part of the 'Big Five' at the start of the season.
 
Going into the final major championship of the year, it has been whittled to the Big Two.
 
Woods has spent 16 weeks at No. 1 in the world, reclaiming the spot from Singh on the strength of his green jacket from the Masters and his silver claret jug from the British Open. Singh has been No. 1 for 15 weeks.
 
Both have won four times on the PGA Tour.

They are the only players to have finished in the top 10 at all three majors.

They are playing at a different level than everyone else.
 
'They tend to give themselves more opportunities, both players, because of their dominating length, good ball-striking ability,' former U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk said. 'And as good as they are, they have more opportunities than most players.'
 
Length figures to be a key component at Baltusrol, which has been stretched to 7,392 yards at par 70, and is unique in that it finishes with consecutive par 5s. The 17th hole is 650 yards, and might be out of reach for even the biggest hitters in golf. John Daly is the only player to reach the green in two at the 1993 U.S. Open.

'Remember, I wasn't using a 3-wood back then, so I got there with a driver and a 1-iron,' Daly said. 'This year, I'll have the wood, but the second shot is uphill, so if they have done a lot to it, I might not be able to get there.'

The 17th hole has been lengthened by 20 yards, and Mickelson already considers it a three-shot hole.
 
The closing hole is a mere 554 yards, made famous by the 1-iron Nicklaus hit into the green when he clinched his second of four U.S. Open titles at Baltusrol in 1967.

Baltusrol has been host to seven U.S. Opens, tied for the most with Oakmont, but this is its first PGA Championship. The final major of the year often has a hard time distinguishing itself from the other majors, although Woods and Singh found one trait they like -- they consider the PGA to be the fairest of them all.

'All the PGA golf courses are right in front of you,' Singh said. 'They don't trick it up or anything. They are going to play tough. It's not going to be a week where you mis-hit and you get away with it. You've got to hit good shots there. You've got to bring your game along. I think whoever wins is going to play really, really well.'
 
Woods joined Nicklaus as the only players to have won the career Grand Slam twice, and Woods created a different kind of slam by winning all four majors that Nicklaus played for the last time.

Just his luck, Nicklaus will be at Baltusrol -- but only as the honorary chairman at a course where he won the U.S. Open in 1967 and in 1980. Perhaps his presence will rub off on Woods, although he doesn't appear to need the help.
 
Michael Campbell won the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, keeping Woods from a shot at the Grand Slam, and even he is starting to wonder if Woods has made it all the way back.

'I've seen Tiger play fantastic five years ago, and to me, that was awesome,' Campbell said. 'I still feel that we haven't seen the best of Tiger.'
 
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