US PGA Championship 2015: Winning off the agenda as Tiger Woods lowers his sights

Former world No 1 seeks consistency at major he claimed four times at his peak

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The restaurant Woods Jupiter is open for business in Florida. A new Tiger Woods-designed course is coming to India. Maybe this is how it is going to be, a flourishing career off the course as the day job becomes increasingly irrelevant.

Should the missed cut trend continue this week at the final major of the season, the US PGA Championship here at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, Woods’ season is a menu item, cooked. Afterwards there are tentative plans to play the second-tier Wyndham Championship next week were there to be a chance of making the lucrative FedEx Cup play-offs next month.

Failing that he will not be seen again at a competitive event until mid-October at the Open in California that marks the start of the new season. A career-low ranking of 267 and missed cuts at the US Open and the Open, where he finished 150th and 147th respectively, have a way of lowering expectation and shredding hubris, even in a house as ego-heavy as his.

It has taken a while for Woods to step back from the idea that he is still a contender. Though he is longer off the tee than he was at his peak, in relative terms he is falling down the power pecking order. The game is by increments moving beyond him, led by Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, who are at one with the demand.

For the first time in the Woods era he did not mention the “w” – winning – at Whistling Straits. The present has been temporarily parked. Instead he talked about the need to develop consistency, about looking longer term to a point when he might be able to string four rounds together at the same event.

The three rounds in the 60s he posted at the Greenbrier last month, including a first bogey-free round for two years, proved meaningless in the context of major golf, where the test is greater and the field deeper.

Since jetting out of St Andrews on the Friday, Woods enjoyed an encouraging week at the Quicken Loans tournament that he co-hosts in Virginia, again shooting three rounds in the 60s. Wisely he has not over invested in the significance of those numbers.

“I don’t know my exact ranking right now. I know I’m in the 200s somewhere,” he said. “But as far as paying attention to that, I’m just trying to get better. I’m just trying to get up there where I can win tournaments, get my game organised so I can be consistent on a tournament basis and give myself a chance to win. That’s what I’ve done most of my career.”

Woods is a four-time winner of the US PGA Championship, most recently in 2007. He ranks his first in 1999 as one of the most important of his career since it bridged the gap from his breakout victory at the Masters in 1997. “I just remember when I won in ’99 the sense of relief because of how hard I had worked to get to that point all over again,” he said. “I won eight times that year and to cap it off with a major championship was huge.”

It was also the start of the greatest period of plunder the game has known, his win at Medinah in 1999 triggering a run of seven victories in 11 major tournaments. He saw off the youthful irreverence of Sergio Garcia to do it. How different history might have been had Garcia prevailed by a stroke instead of the reverse. 

The world turns. McIlroy’s rapid return from injury to resume his rivalry with Spieth has quickened the pulse here. This was for so long the territory of Woods. Just now he is of greater value as a mouthpiece passing opinion on those who set the agenda, as opposed to setting it himself.

On matters of bodily repairs, Woods has plenty of expertise. “Am I surprised he [McIlroy] has made the recovery? No. he has good physios, he’s worked hard. It’s a matter of how long is he going to have to go with it like this, or is he going to have to get it surgically repaired. As far as his talent to be able to play golf that’s not going to be a problem. It’s a matter of physically can he do it.”

Woods on the wane: His 2015 record

February: Phoenix Open

Rounds: 73, 82 (Missed cut)

April: The Masters

73, 69, 68, 73 (Tied 17th)

May: Players’ Championship

73, 71, 75, 72 (Tied 69th)

June: Memorial Tournament

73, 70, 85, 74 (71st)

June: US Open

80, 76 (Missed cut)

July: Greenbrier Classic

66, 69, 71, 67 (Tied 32nd)

July: The Open

76, 75 (Missed cut)

August: Quicken Loans National

68, 66, 74, 68 (Tied 18th)