For Woods, majors are all about opportunity

By Doug Ferguson

AP Golf Writer

RANCHO SANTA FE, Calif. -- All he had to do was make pars at Royal St. George's and Tiger Woods might have captured the silver claret jug.

He still wonders how the 1999 U.S. Open might have unfolded had he made that short par putt on the 17th hole at Pinehurst No. 2.

And what about last year at Hazeltine?


Woods had a 12-foot birdie putt on No. 13 as he was closing in on Rich Beem at the PGA Championship. He three-putted for bogey, and even four straight birdies at the end wasn't enough for him to recover from that blunder.

So, Woods remains stuck on eight majors. He is not even halfway home to the 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, the only record that really matters.

Does it haunt him?


Every opportunity lost in a major -- none as great as the British Open -- makes Woods realize he is lucky to even be in range of the Golden Bear.

The 18 majors are impressive enough.

What really gets Woods' attention are the 19 times Nicklaus finished second.

"If he wins half of those second-place finishes -- let's make it nine -- that's 27 majors," Woods said, his eyes widening at the thought of such an outrageous number.


"Did he win them all? No. Did he get beat? Yeah," Woods said. "He also blew a couple here and there. He made his share of mistakes. But he put himself there more than anybody else. And that's the key."

Woods has not blown a major -- yet.

He has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead eight times, and won them all. Woods probably has 80 majors ahead of him, so that's bound to change.

"It's probably going to happen, because it's happened to everyone else," he said. "But if you're there enough times, you're also going to win your share."

That's what Woods took away from the British Open, where bogeys on two of the last four holes left him two strokes behind Ben Curtis.

Woods spent a week diving off the coast of Central America, recharging for the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in two weeks, his final chance this year to win a major.

He continues to see the big picture, even everyone else is taking snapshots.

A year ago, some people assumed -- Nicklaus included -- that Woods might not be as motivated for the PGA Championship because he lost his bid for the calendar Grand Slam with an 81 in the third round at the British Open.


Now, some believe Woods is piling the pressure on himself to win the PGA Championship and avoid his first major-less season in five years.

How does he approach Oak Hill?

For one thing, Woods doesn't plan to play a practice round until he arrives Monday of the PGA Championship.

"I'll treat this the same as all the others," he said. "Same focus. Same mind-set. Same preparation. And hopefully, it works out. It has worked in the past. The key is to put yourself there, and hopefully you outplay the other guy."

It doesn't always work out that way.

What eats at him more than his two bogeys down the stretch at Royal St. George's is that those wasted strokes mattered more than he could have realized.

Blame that on Thomas Bjorn.

"I wouldn't feel so bad like I do now -- and probably will for a long time -- if Thomas had gone ahead and finished the way he was supposed to," Woods said.


Bjorn had a two-shot lead with three holes to play when he took three swings from a pot bunker on No. 16 and made double bogey, then dropped another shot on the 17th to blow a chance at winning his first major.

Has Woods ever blown a major?

He contemplated that for a minute, then returned to 1999, when he was toward the end of his longest drought (10) in the majors.

"The only one I felt I should have won was at Pinehurst," he said. "I was playing so good that day. I felt it was my tournament to win, even more than the PGA at Hazeltine."

Payne Stewart won the '99 U.S. Open with a 15-foot par on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson by one shot. Woods tied for third, another stroke behind, but he can't shake the memory of a 5-foot par putt that lipped out on the 17th hole.

Woods was at even par for the tournament. In the group behind him was Mickelson at 1 under and Stewart at even par. Both were in trouble on the 16th.

Woods missed for par, then narrowly missed a 25-foot birdie on the last to finish 1 over.

Stewart saved par on the 16th from 25 feet, made a 3-footer for birdie on the 17th and won the U.S. Open with a 15-foot par save on the final hole.


"If I could have posted at even par, there was a big scoreboard on 17," Woods said. "That would have made their tee shots more interesting, and their putts more interesting. But since I dropped off, it was just those two, instead of worrying about me."

It was a rare moment when Woods looked behind him, although it offered him some perspective heading into the final major of the year.

He won't win them all. All he can ask for is a chance.

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