KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. – It was here at “Glory’s Last Shot,” just as much as Augusta National, where Tiger Woods figured to make major championship hay.
Through the first decade of his historic career more than half of his 14 Grand Slam keepsakes were collected at the bookend majors, the Masters (four) and PGA (four). The season’s first and fourth majors are also where he has posted four of his six runner-up showings on the game’s brightest stage.
Augusta National, before both the course and his game began undergoing changes both scheduled and otherwise, was always a natural fit for his rare combination of power and touch; but it was the PGA that awakened the inner athlete.
In 2007 at Southern Hills, when temperatures hovered near triple digits, Woods literally outlasted the field as if by an act of attrition, and sprawling ballparks like Medinah, where he won two Wanamaker Trophies, fed his power advantage, be it real or perceived.
There was also something to the argument that Woods’ schedule, lean early in the season to best prepare for the majors, lent itself to a big finish. Forget the Tour calendar, he arrived at the PGA more times than not in mid-season form.
That the PGA is also the last chance to turn a decent season into something special can’t be overlooked by a player who has kept time with a Grand Slam clock. Woods is 2-for-8 getting off the single-season major schneid in his last at bat.
In his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships it will be the PGA, as much as the Masters, that will factor heavily into the final equation. And if his tie for 28th at the ’10 PGA - a week after he began working with Sean Foley - and his missed cut last year is concerning him it wasn’t showing on Tuesday at Kiawah when he talked between rain delays.
“It’s going to take a career,” Woods said when asked of Jack’s benchmark. “Jack didn’t finish his (career) until he was 46, so if you go by that timetable I’ve got 10 more years. Forty more majors is a lot. I’ve got plenty of time.”
It’s that long view that has likely buoyed Woods throughout the last few years. More so than a swing that could win four more majors the goal seemed to be devising an action that would last for 40. Following multiple surgeries to Woods’ leading knee, Foley’s mandate seems to have been “do no more harm.”
It wasn’t that long ago that the notion that his body, particularly his left leg, might not last until he was 46. He missed the second half of 2008 following surgery, withdrew from The Players Championship in consecutive years with various ailments and walked off the golf course on Sunday this year at Doral with a bad wheel.
That he’s won three times this season is encouraging. That he’s now gone 10 events without an injury-induced WD and will play all four majors in a single season for the first time since 2010 is like Christmas in August. In many ways this comeback has literally been measured in baby steps.
By most accounts gone is the knee snap that produced so many trophies but, some contend, shortened Woods’ competitive shelf life, the intense workout regimens and extreme extracurricular activities like training with the Navy SEALs.
Instead, Woods is now indulging in post-round practice, like he did after each round last month at Lytham, to hone a swing that leaves him 13th on Tour in greens in regulation, fourth in ball-striking and 36th in driving accuracy.
“I've progressed this year over my last couple years, and I'm very pleased with what I've done, being healthy and being able to play and practice properly and implement the things that Sean wants me to do,” he said. “This is the way I can hit the golf ball. This is the way I can play. It's nice to be able to do the things that I know I can do.”
He also knows that it will likely be at the PGA where the Grand Slam portion of the program begins its comeback, particularly at the Ocean Course with its four reachable par 5s and grueling heat index. The 1999 PGA was his second major victory and his Wanamaker collection accounts for 29 percent of his Grand Slam haul. In simplest terms the PGA has been low-hanging fruit for much of his career and Kiawah marks the start of his 2012 two-minute drill.
“I've played in three major championships this year, and I didn't win any of them,” Woods said. “Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn't feel very good.”
He may not be feeling any pressure to get on with it, but considering that Woods’ major drought now stretches back four years and 13 Grand Slam starts he’s certainly on the clock.