Wrapping up Tiger's majors season
ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- If you go by the mantra that the major championships are all that matter, that success in any other arena is of no consequence, then this year has been one of disappointment for Tiger Woods.
For the fifth straight year, he failed to bring home the hardware in any of golf's biggest tournaments, and it was all over but the final tally sometime Saturday afternoon when it became apparent that Woods was failing to make a move at Oak Hill Country Club.
He would finish well back this time, a disappointing result given his dominating victory just a week earlier at Firestone Country Club, where he has won eight times.
Whether it truly is a disaster that Woods is unable to get the deal done in the major championships or just a matter of time given his otherwise solid play can be debated between now and April, when the Masters rolls around and the No. 1-ranked player in the world will likely be favored to win again.
Perspective is always in order when it comes to discussing Woods, and he himself suggested that it wouldn't be so bad to wait those long eight months, given the amount of golf to be played between now and then. Then again, what else would he say?
He might privately lament another year of lost opportunities, and the issues he has had in adding to his haul of 14 major titles. But aside from the frustration he shows on the course from time to time, or the issues he details from round to round, it is hard to really know how much it eats at him.
"Is it concerning?" Woods said when asked Sunday if, well, his lack of majors of late is a concern. "No. As I've said, I've been there in half of them. So that's about right. If you are going to be in there three-quarters or half of them with a chance to win on the back nine, you have just got to get it done."
And yet, for those inclined to beat him up over five full years without a major, there is plenty of fodder. He has played in 18 majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open and failed to win any. He's not shot a weekend round in the 60s in the past two years, when his game was seemingly best equipped to deal with major championship challenges.
Last year, he was the 36-hole leader at both the U.S. Open and PGA Championship and fell out of the top 10 in both. This year, both of those tournaments proved to be a disaster, but he contended at the Masters (tied for fourth, and if you're honest, everything changed when he hit the flagstick and went in the water during Friday's second round) and again at the Open Championship, where he was tied for sixth.
Since winning the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in 2008, Woods has been top 10 in nine majors, top six in eight. During that period, there have been two missed cuts, but it is not like he has been horrible, especially when you consider his rise to the top of the world rankings earlier this year and eight victories in the past 17 months.
But the fact he's been there with a chance on the weekend at five of the past eight majors (he tied for third at the Open Championship last year) without being able to close one out, leads to all manner of reasoning.
He's trying too hard. He's pressing. It's mental.
Sean Foley, Woods' coach since the PGA Championship in 2010, has heard them all, and simply suggests that what his student is enduring at the majors is part of golf.
"If I look at it with logic and reason, the majors are on the most difficult courses of the year," Foley said. "If you have some issues with your swing or your putting or your chipping, it's just typically more penal. And then it's more difficult to go on a run."
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Foley also works with Justin Rose, who after winning the U.S. Open, then missed the cut at the Open Championship.
"From the U.S. Open to the British Open, it was like standing on the range with a whole different movement pattern," he said. "You can find answers for it, but sometimes it's just as important to recognize that things are what they are. Sometimes if you analyze it and figure it out, you get real lost on the path. And you bring in a bunch of nonsense. You end up realizing that wasn't the right way to go about it. You just have to grind it out."
Woods said he had an issue with his takeaway that he had trouble fixing but that could be remedied by the time he tees it up again in the FedEx Cup playoffs. Not necessarily a big deal.
But clearly something is amiss in majors.
Last year following the PGA, Woods said he tried to change his attitude. "I was too relaxed, and I tried to enjoy it and that's not how I play," he said then.
At the Open Championship this year, Woods remarked how the green speeds confused him, and his inability to adapt to them cost him. It was a similar problem at the U.S. Open. At the PGA, being put on the clock during the first round caused him to "rush" a birdie putt that he missed.
There seemingly have been more and quicker signs of exasperation, along with more excuses -- although when it was over Sunday, Woods said: "I certainly didn't hit the ball good enough to be in it."
For the week, Woods hit just 25 of 56 fairways and only 45 of 72 greens. He also had 121 putts (consider he had 100 when he won at Doral, 102 when he won at Bay Hill, both earlier this year).
Player after player, however, remarks about how good Woods is when they play with him. They see him from week to week and marvel at his skills, his control. A major, they say, is coming.
"It's incredible how well he controls his ball flight," Graeme McDowell said after playing with Woods for two rounds at the Open Championship. "And he's putting exceptionally well."
Woods won against major-like fields this year at the WGC-Cadillac Championship, the Players Championship and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. He also won the Farmers Insurance Open and the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
In 12 worldwide stroke-play events, Woods has five victories and just a single missed cut -- at his season-opening event in Abu Dhabi, where a 2-stroke penalty assessed during the second round meant missing the weekend by a shot. He has taken a commanding lead at No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
But he's been stuck on 14 majors since Rory McIlroy was 19.
Prior to the PGA, Woods was asked if winning his 15th major is proving to be the toughest. "It kind of seems that way," he said.
With a 38th birthday looming for Woods in December, next year might be the biggest yet as it relates to catching Jack Nicklaus and his record 18 majors. Age will be the biggest factor going forward.
But 2014 presents some major opportunities. Although he has not won the Masters since 2005, Woods has four victories at Augusta National and seven top-6 finishes since. The U.S. Open returns to Pinehurst, where he tied for third in 1999 and was second in 2005.
The Open Championship is at Royal Liverpool, where he won the last of his three Claret Jugs in 2006, keeping his driver in the bag for all but one hole; and the PGA returns to Valhalla, site of his epic 2000 playoff victory over Bob May.
Although he suggested otherwise, you figure that for Woods, April cannot get here fast enough.
The first round at Augusta National is 240 days away.
THE PGA CHAMPIONSHIP
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