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Last Chance at Glory

It has been a successful year for Woods, but he won't be satisfied unless he wins the PGA

August 10, 2003|From Associated Press

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — By all accounts but one, Tiger Woods has every reason to call this year a success.

Despite surgery on his left knee that caused him to miss five weeks and limited his PGA Tour events to a career-low 12 entering the PGA Championship, Woods has won four times, has four other top 5s, leads the money list and has the lowest scoring average.

"A heck of a year, all things considered," Woods said.

Still, he won't consider it a great year without a major championship.

Not since he left the forest-lined fairways of Sahalee five years ago has Woods gone into an off-season without a major to his name. That's what he is up against at Oak Hill Country Club in the 85th PGA Championship, the fourth and final major known as "Glory's Last Shot."

It's his last shot at joining Walter Hagen as the only men to win a major in five consecutive seasons.

It's his last shot to stop all this talk about a majors slump.

It's his last shot to avoid spending the next seven months mulling over chances that got away from him at Augusta National and Royal St. George's.

"If you win a major championship, it's a great year, simple as that," Woods said. "Majors are so much better than anything else. It's like tennis -- you don't hear about any other events [but the Grand Slam]. There are so many other events around the world that are big, but there are only four majors."

Three of them already are taken.

Mike Weir of Canada won the Masters. Jim Furyk won the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields. Ben Curtis, a 500-1 longshot who was No. 396 in the world ranking, pulled off a shocker at Royal St. George's to win the British Open.

Not since 1969 have all four majors gone to players who had never won a Grand Slam event -- George Archer (Masters), Orville Moody (U.S. Open), Tony Jacklin (British Open) and Raymond Floyd (PGA).

There's a good chance of that happening at the PGA. Twelve of its last 15 winners had never won a major.

Last year it was Rich Beem, the former car stereo salesman who played like he had nothing to lose, withstood four consecutive birdies by Woods down the stretch, and won the Wanamaker Trophy at Hazeltine.

Maybe that wasn't such an accident.

"You're looking at your Tiger Woods, your Phil Mickelsons, Davis Love, Ernie Els. There's still going to be 10 guys that really are at the top of the talent pool," Furyk said. "But there are more guys that have an opportunity to win now, and that's going to continue to happen."

This year could shape up like 1969 for another reason -- that was the last time eight players had won at least twice on the PGA Tour going into the final major of the year.

That list includes Woods (4), Weir, Davis Love III and Kenny Perry (3), and Furyk, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and David Toms at two victories each.

The hottest player of the bunch is Perry, who has won three times and finished in the top 10 in his last seven tournaments, dating to Colonial in May. Perry has the unique distinction of winning in back-to-back weeks with the No. 1 player in the field -- Annika Sorenstam at Colonial, Woods at the Memorial.

Perry isn't sure why he's on the biggest roll of his career, but he gives some credit to Woods.

"He's definitely head and shoulders above most guys out here, so he's raised the bar and he's actually made me play better," Perry said. "I've watched what he's done. It's inspired me, and I've raised the level of my game."

Furyk has a chance to join some exclusive company. The only other players to have won the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship in the same year are Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen.

There is reason to believe Furyk can succeed again, and not just because he is coming off a two-stroke victory at the tree-lined Buick Open.

The East course at Oak Hill is a classic design that resembles a U.S. Open venue. The winding fairways are on average 23 yards wide, the rough is thick and mushy and the greens are among the quickest. The last time Oak Hill held a major was in 1980, when Nicklaus won his record-tying fifth PGA.

He finished at six-under 274. No one else broke par.

Weather conditions tend to dictate whether any course plays easy or difficult, and just as difficult to forecast is a winner -- especially this year, especially at this major championship.

Oak Hill is not entirely unknown. Eleven players from the '95 Ryder Cup return, although not all of them have pleasant memories. Brad Faxon, Peter Jacobsen and Jay Haas all came to the 18th hole that day with a chance to earn valuable points, and all came up empty in a European victory.

Phil Mickelson went 3-0 at Oak Hill in the '95 matches, and he usually plays his best in the PGA Championship. No one is sure what to expect this year. The best player to have never won a major has not been in contention at any tournament since his forgotten third-place finish at the Masters.

Mickelson, out of the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time in six years, has not won in more than a year.

"I don't feel like there's pressure to get a win right away," he said last month. "I want to just start playing better, as opposed to worrying about the result."

The PGA Championship also is the last chance for the Americans to earn a spot on the Presidents Cup team that will play in South Africa in November.

Jerry Kelly, Bob Estes, Charles Howell III, Fred Funk and Jeff Sluman are all on the bubble. None has ever played in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup.

The PGA also could go a long way toward determining who wins the PGA Tour player of the year, an award that Woods has won the last four seasons. He is locked in a good race with Weir, Furyk and Perry, and any number of players could join the fray by holding the Wanamaker Trophy at week's end.

That's not what is driving Woods.

He simply doesn't want the year to end without a major on his mantel.

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