A year without a Tiger major is a bit like a year with a European major winner – not a one-off, but a definite rarity. That isthe intriguing possibility when the golfing caravan pitchesup at its last stop of real significance this season, the USPGA Championship at Southern Hills.
Defeat in the state of Oklahoma this week would mean that for only the fourth time in his 11 complete seasons as a professional, Woods will have drawn a blank. Turn out the lights? End this farce? Tiger is finished.
Well, not quite, but still apretty unpalatable prospect for this competitor of the most voracious of appetites. "You never want to be shut out, you never want to have a year where you don't win a major," he said, meaning the individual "I" when using the collective "you". "This year I've come close in two, and it just didn't happen. But I've been in this situation before."
Not that he would ever care to be in it again, especially with Jack Nicklaus still six away; an oft-quoted target, but one whose relevance should never be underestimated. So what are the chances of a Tigerless Slam? Low, if the billboards lining the Tulsa streets are to be believed. "Woods v Southern Hills" they yell, as if the other 155 in the field do not count and the world No 1's only rival is the course itself.
He laughed off such a suggestion early last week when he made a reconnaissance trip from the WGC Bridgestone Invitational over to Tulsa. "What, it doesn't suit me just because I haven't won there in two tries?" he asked. Woods should not have been too flabbergasted, as there are not that many courses he has played more than once without visiting its winner's enclosure, although with Southern Hills there were extenuating circumstances in both of his visits.
In 1996, at the Tour Champ-ionship, the then 20-year-old finished 21st in the 30-strong field but said he couldn't give a "rat's butt" for his new profession that week as his father was admitted to hospital with chest pains. Then, five years later, when the US Open and its chorus line of knee-high rough came to town, he arrived there looking temporarily "golfed out" after winning the previous four majors and forging his history. Woods recovered to make a late charge for 12th, but somehow the image stuck that Southern Hills did not, yawn, "fit his eye".
That assumption was based on the sloping fairways, on which accuracy and not length is the premium quality. The theory goes that Woods is not favoured by "hiddly-piddly" layouts, but that is insulting to player and course. While Southern Hills is so much more than that, Woods has developed into a pro who loves to shape the ball this way and that, sending it sky-bound one hole and keeping it low the next. He fully understands the challenge awaiting. "You have to place the ball off the tee as well as firing it into the greens," he said. "You have to place the ball correctly, and if you're not hitting it well there, you will be exposed. You look at all the champions who have won there, they all hit the ball beautifully."
Saying that, there is not atrue great amongst them; fineplayers such as Tommy Bolt, Ray Floyd, Nick Price and Retief Goosen, but no genuine legends. Woods can change all that, although a personal hunch is that Phil Mickelson will have his finest major of the year and Justin Rose will continue to enhance his status. Should the unthinkable come to pass, Woods, the new father, will still look back on 2007 with obvious affection.
"Last year, all the success I had on the golf course, it still felt like a failure because of what happened off the course," he said, referring to his father's death. "What's happening off the course has made this year a success. No matter what I did on the course last year it never felt right. This year, no matter what I do on the golf course, it just feels right."Reuse content