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This Season, Challenge for Woods Has Been a Major Issue

August 14, 2003|THOMAS BONK

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Tiger Woods is annoyed. He is also peeved, pressed, perturbed and petulant.

He has arrived here on the doorstep of the 85th PGA Championship at spongy Oak Hill Country Club without the heaviest club in his bag. You know the one. It's the weapon he uses to great advantage on those who would rise up to challenge his position as the greatest player in the game.


But with the fourth and final major of the year beginning today, the question is: Has Tiger lost it?

That's sort of the way it goes in Tigerland, where you're not simply judged by how many you win, but by how many Big Ones you win.

The record shows that Woods hasn't won any this year -- any majors, that is. In fact, he's in a 14-month drought ... don't call it a slump unless you want Tiger to shoot you the icy stare that freezes all the blood vessels in your body.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday August 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 36 words Type of Material: Correction
Tiger Woods -- A Sports article Thursday on Tiger Woods incorrectly reported that Woods had been winless in six consecutive major tournaments. Before the 2003 PGA Championship, Woods' streak was five consecutive majors without a victory.

Sure, Woods has been close three times in majors, just not close enough.

At the Masters, his 66 on Saturday couldn't make up for his 76 on Thursday or his 75 on Sunday and he tied for 15th. At the U.S. Open, he was four under for the first 36 holes, seven over for the last 36 and he tied for 20th. Maybe his best chance was at the British Open, where he bogeyed two of the last four holes and missed forcing a playoff by two shots.

Add it up and you've got what Woods doesn't like, a year without a major title. And here is something else he doesn't like: being grilled about it.

Actually, that's not entirely correct. Woods doesn't have a problem talking about the majors and how near he was to nailing at least one of them, but he said Tuesday that he's becoming increasingly annoyed by questions about whether his year stinks.

Woods contends that it is impossible to say your year has been a washout when you've won four times and have made more money than any other player in the world except one.

Many share that view, such as Jim Furyk, who succeeded Woods two months ago as U.S. Open champion. He says that Woods faces one hulking obstacle each time he shows up to play a major -- expectations. Furyk blames the media for setting the bar too high, inflating the standards and creating unreal goals. He says when he reads stuff about Woods, it comes across that Woods is struggling, slumping, playing poorly and that he has had a terrible year.

Jeff Sluman, though, says that Woods is a victim of his own success, that it is Woods himself who puts so much emphasis on winning majors. Then, when he does not win, the fallout from his failure is based more on his own expectations and goals than those belonging to anyone else.

Furyk says he is sure Woods isn't happy with his year, regardless of his four victories in 12 PGA Tour events. But Furyk also says he's sure Woods doesn't consider four victories a bad year either.

Nobody should, especially Tiger.

So that brings us back to Oak Hill, where Woods played his second practice round early Tuesday, in a group with Mark O'Meara and Jay Haas. What they discovered was that the fairways were soft, the rough was tall and the greens were so soft they were showing heel prints.

The course is beefed up to 7,134 yards, or 230 yards longer than it played for the 1995 Ryder Cup, the last major event staged here. But it's possible that length isn't going to be the issue this week. Woods says it's going to be less a factor than keeping the ball on the fairway and then sticking it in the hole.

He says if he's going to come through, it's going to be because of his putting. Those 10-footers and everything else shorter have got to fall, Woods says, because that's how you score.

The greens are of poa annua grass, and that's not Woods' favorite putting surface. Meanwhile, the majors come and go and Woods is standing here empty-handed, his streak having reached six. That makes the showdown at Oak Hill something like Tiger's last stand.

It's a major issue, although not one that's going to make Tiger crumple from the burden. If he doesn't win this week, it won't be the end of the world, only the end of his chances at a major this year.

Tiger has won at least one major every year since 1998. That's something he can answer questions about right up until, say, next April, when he shows up to play the Masters and the major cycle starts spinning again.



Woods in the Majors

How Tiger Woods has fared in the Grand Slam tournaments (*amateur):

*--* YEAR Masters U.S. Open British Open PGA Champ 2003 T15 T20 T4 2002 1 1 T28 2 2001 1 T12 T25 T29 2000 5 1 1 1 1999 T-18 T-3 T-7 1 1998 T-8 T-18 3 T-10 1997 1 T-19 T-24 T-29 1996 Cut* T-82* T-22* -- 1995 T-41* W/D* T-68* --



*--* Events 1st 2nd 3rd Top 10 Top 25 Cut Earnings 12 4 1 0 8 12 0 $4,810,496


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