TULSA, Okla. – The sun had just begun to cast a pink glow on the edges of morning clouds Tuesday when Tiger Woods stood on the first tee at Southern Hills, his typical predawn start of his practice rounds in the majors.
It is rare when he has to wait on anyone but the maintenance crew.
This PGA Championship is different.
With temperatures pushing 100 degrees, Southern Hills was bustling before breakfast with players teeing off on both nines, everyone wanting to finish playing before they were soaked in sweat.
But the early start also smacked of desperation at the final major of the year, especially for Woods.
This is the fifth time in his career that the world’s No. 1 player arrived at the PGA Championship without already having won a major. Only once did he come through, at Medinah in 1999. Despite 67 victories around the world, including four this year on the PGA Tour, Woods measures success in the four biggest events of the year.
“It’s been pretty good, but not great,” he said after his final practice round. “I just think the major championships are valued that highly, and I’ve come close. Just haven’t got it done yet.”
He hasn’t been without his chances.
Woods spent too much time in the trees, the bunkers and the water at Augusta National and finished two shots behind Zach Johnson at the Masters. The only meaningful putts he made on the back nine at Oakmont were for par, and he wound up one shot behind Angel Cabrera in the U.S. Open. He never hit the ball close at Carnoustie, settling for a tie for 12th at the British Open.
His cumulative score at the majors is 7 over par, five shots better than the next best player, Jim Furyk.
But no trophies.
Woods, of course, is not alone. Furyk was tied for the lead at Oakmont until taking bogey on the 17th hole of the final round. Retief Goosen couldn’t make a birdie on the back nine at the Masters. Ernie Els couldn’t catch the leaders at Carnoustie. Phil Mickelson hasn’t made the cut in the last two majors.
Still, most of the attention falls on Woods. He had won the last two majors of 2006 and was closing in fast on the benchmark Jack Nicklaus established of 18 professional majors, but now seems to have stalled. Even after an eight-shot victory last week at Firestone, there are questions whether his game is a good fit for Southern Hills.
“I tend to get that at courses where I played there once and didn’t win,” Woods said, sounding slightly defensive.
He actually has played this Perry Maxwell design twice, although swears the first time was a blur. He was a 20-year-old player who qualified for the Tour Championship in seven starts over two months. After one round, however, his father was taken to the hospital with chest pains that were related to bronchitis. Woods was a wreck the rest of the week.