Woods deals with major trouble

Posted: Tuesday, August 19, 2003

ROCHESTER, N.Y. Tiger Woods was on the practice green about an hour before his final round in the PGA Championship when he looked over at a large clock.

''I'm playing so early, I can get home and watch the finish,'' he said.

Majors used to end with Woods at the closing ceremony, not on his couch.

He usually hoisted a trophy, smiled for the cameras and answered questions about his quest to win more major championships than the record 18 belonging to Jack Nicklaus.

Now he's finishing early enough to fly home to Florida and camp out in front of the television while someone else comes up with a winning shot that will be talked about for years.

No one could have imagined that Shaun Micheel, who was No. 169 in the world ranking and whose best tournaments were the ones Woods didn't play, would win more majors this year.

Ditto for Ben Curtis.

Not many would have ventured that Woods would be shut out of the Grand Slam for the first time since 1998, or that his drought would reach six majors.

''I just haven't gotten it done,'' Woods said. ''That's part of playing.''

It's still too early to call it a slump. Woods has won four times this year, and Nicklaus went twice as many majors without winning in his prime.

Still, the results alone are difficult to ignore.

The PGA Championship was his worst major since he turned pro. Woods tied for 39th at 12-over-par 292, a whopping 16 shots behind Micheel. He shot over par all four rounds, only the third time that has happened in a major. He averaged a bogey every four holes.

For the season, Woods was 18 over par in the majors. For the first time in his career, he failed to finish under par in any of the Grand Slam events.

After closing with a 73 in the final round at Oak Hill, Woods walked down a brick path toward the scoring room and told a small group of reporters that the ''suffering is over.''

It wasn't clear if he was talking about Oak Hill or 2003.

''You're going to have a couple months that you're going to play poorly,'' said Adam Scott of Australia, who often plays morning practice rounds with Woods.

''When he doesn't play well, he's 18 over par in the majors for one year,'' Scott said. ''When other guys don't play well, it's usually 40 or 50 over par.''

Trouble is, Woods isn't compared with anyone but himself. Expectations are higher for him than any other player perhaps any other in history.

Still, the PGA Championship revealed plenty of problems.

Putting usually determines whether Woods has a chance to win sometimes, it's a question of how much. This time, it only kept bad scores from being worse.

''Every putt I had inside 10 feet, I pretty much buried,'' Woods said. ''But most of those were pars. I putted great just to make the cut.''

His biggest issue was getting the ball in play, no matter what driver was in his hands. And Woods rarely hit the ball the right distance.

Woods hasn't seen Butch Harmon since early this year when he was getting ready to return to the PGA Tour from knee surgery. If that has become a problem, Woods isn't letting on.

''I know my swing,'' he said in the locker room after the third round.

He set down a large box of shoes, then demonstrated his swing over and over the arms coming down into the shot and matching the turn of his hips. If his hips rotate too quickly, his arms lag behind and he has to compensate.

''I'm just not matching up,'' Woods said. ''My arm speed, my body speed ... it's just not quite there.''

It wasn't a problem in 2000, when Woods played the four majors in 53 under par and won three of them. It wasn't a problem the first half of last year, when he won the Masters and U.S. Open to give him seven majors in the last 11 played.

''It's a feeling,'' Woods said. ''And once you've found it, you just carry it with you the rest of the trip. Now, it goes in stretches.''

Asked when he last felt this uncomfortable over the ball, Woods smiled.

''This year,'' he said. ''The Buick Open (a tie for second). The Western Open, which I won because I made everything. I hit it really good at the British, I just couldn't make a putt on the back nine.''

The PGA Championship behind him, Woods looked ahead to the final three months of the season that include two World Golf Championships, a new $5 million tournament outside Boston that ends on Labor Day, the season-ending Tour Championship.

''You've got so many big events coming up,'' he said.

The words rang hollow because none of those tournaments is a major. None will get him closer to Nicklaus' record. Woods is stuck on eight majors.

And he already was bracing for seven months of questions about the majors.

''The guy is still a freak,'' Scott said. ''And he'll get his swing thought out. You just don't hit it good all the time.''

Woods found that out the hard way this year.

The last time he finished a year without a major, he was still working through an overhaul of his swing. He contended in the '98 majors more often than he did in 1997, when he won his first major at the Masters with a 12-stroke victory.

Things were different then.

''At the time, I had won only one major,'' he said. ''It wasn't like I had won a whole bunch of majors and had expectations like I do now.''



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