Tiger looks to break another streak

Originally Published: August 4, 2004
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

HAVEN, Wis. -- Tiger Woods is closing in on a different kind of streak, one that was probably inevitable. If he fails to win the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, it will be 10 straight majors without a victory, matching his drought between the 1997 Masters and 1999 PGA Championship.

Five years ago, when Woods defeated Sergio Garcia at Medinah, he went on a run of seven majors in 11 tries, bringing his total to eight, where he stands now.

At that time, he also was emerging from a year-long effort to re-work his swing, a move he felt was necessary to be more consistent.

For whatever reason, Woods has been undergoing a similar, although not as drastic, transformation over the past two years.

Where they're playing

This week:
PGA Championship
Haven, Wis.
Whistling Straits (7,514 yards, par 72). Purse:
$6 million
Thursday: 2-8 p.m. (TNT)
Friday.: 2-8 p.m. (TNT)
Saturday: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (TNT), 2-7 p.m. (CBS)
Sunday: 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. (TNT), 2-7 p.m. (CBS)
Defending champ:
Shaun Micheel

This week:
No event scheduled

This week:
No event scheduled

This week:
Russian Open
Moscow, Russia
Le Meridien Moscow CC (7,074 yards, par 72)
Defending champ:
Marcus Fraser

This week:
Price Cutter Charity Championship
Springfield, Mo.
Highland Springs CC (7,060 yards, par 72)
Defending champ:
Tom Carter

"This is very similar to that period I went through in '98," said Woods, who has gone nearly a year without a stroke play victory but still has won eight times on the PGA Tour since his last major win at the 2002 U.S. Open. "It feels very similar to that, and the things that are starting to come together, it's very exciting. Just like it was back in '98 and '99 where they were starting to gel. That part of it is very similar."

If that is the case, then watch out. Woods went on the kind of run starting with the 1999 PGA that might not ever been seen again. He won four of five major championships, including four in a row.

He also won eight PGA Tour events in 1999, followed by nine in 2000. It was a time when he had the rest of the golf world stunned.

"I hit a lot of fairways, I hit a lot of balls real close and I made a lot of putts," he said. "It's that simple. And I shot some pretty good scores."

But really, there is a bit more to it.

"I got into a great rhythm," he said. "You ask any player out here, there's no substitute for confidence, and I was feeling very confident at the time. I was sitting up there and hitting shots, making a bunch of putts. That was probably the best stretch I've ever had in my life as far as putting-wise.

"You look at the way I putted at Pebble Beach (where he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 strokes). I didn't miss one putt inside 10 feet, and the British Open (2000 St. Andrews) was about the same. That's a nice problem to have when you go through a stretch like that."

Can Woods win this week? Why not? He is coming off a 21 under par performance two weeks ago at the Buick Open. The conditions are nowhere similar, but to make that many birdies is a good sign.

Woods has always preferred the "par-is-a-good score" kind of tournament, and this PGA could very well be that way. His driving has improved, and if he can get some putts to drop, it would be no surprise at all to see Woods join Ben Hogan and Gary Player with nine major championships and be halfway to Jack Nicklaus' 18.

"You've just got to keep grinding, keep working at it and give yourself a lot of opportunities," Woods said. "I think that's what Jack was able to do better than any other player in the history of our game. He gave himself a lot of chances. I give myself some chances and just haven't won. It's a matter of keep putting myself up there."

Five Things To Bank On

Somebody will go low at the PGA. Despite all the talk about the difficulty of Whistling Straits, there will be a few players who figure it out, perhaps several.

Bad weather, however, presents another scenario. There is no telling would could happen if the wind blows. Then anything goes. And the howling will be loud -- not the wind, but that from the players.

A player you wouldn't expect will be in contention on Sunday, and might win. This is, after all, the major championship for first-time major winners. Of the past 14 PGAs, 11 have been won by players winning a major for the first time.

A European player will not win. Although this is a links-style course, the odds have been against the Europeans at this tournament, where Tommy Armour in 1930 is the last to win.

The 18th hole will be a source of controversy. The par-4's length of 500 yards coupled with an enormous green of 18,000 square feet is cause for concern. Depending on the wind, players might have difficulty reaching the green in two shots. And due to the interesting shape of the green, players could be chipping from one area to another.

Hal Sutton
This is the last week for U.S. players to earn Ryder Cup team points. The team will be determined at the conclusion of the PGA Championship on Sunday, and U.S. Captain Hal Sutton will announce his two at-large selections on Monday.
The timing is unfortunate.
It used to be that the Ryder Cup needed the boost in publicity. Having players and media discuss it during the PGA Championship was welcome. But not anymore. The Ryder Cup doesn't need such help. And the PGA should stand on its own.
What's more important, winning a major championship or making the Ryder Cup team? Every player would have to say winning a major. But the Ryder Cup is a recurring theme this week. Both captains have been brought in for interviews. Players are asked about the competition that is still a month away.
The Ryder Cup is one of the most-anticipated golf events of the year. It is wildly popular. There is still plenty of time for hype. Why not wait two weeks to name the team, as the Europeans do? Let the captains make their selections at the end of August. It will still get plenty of media attention.
And led the focus be on the fourth and final major championship of the year.
Bob HarigGot a question about the PGA Tour? Ask ESPN.com golf writer Bob Harig, who will answer your inquiries in each installment of This Week in Golf.

Q. I heard someone say recently that if it were up the fans, John Daly and Jay Haas would be on the Ryder Cup team. Well, why isn't is up to the fans? The NBA, MLB and NHL let fans decide All-Star teams, why can't we choose two wild-card picks for the Ryder Cup? Sutton should do what the fans want and bring Haas and Daly to Oakland Hills.
New York City

A. In other sports, the fans have a role in choosing the teams, but not a complete say. And while fan input seems like a nice idea, it sort of would negate one of the biggest roles of the captain, who is trying to mold his team in a certain way. Sutton has been thinking about this for months, and it is doubtful he will go by what the fans want. If it's Daly and Haas, it will be a coincidence.

Q. How are the President's Cup points awarded? John Daly is in the top 10 and ahead of some other players that are ahead of him for Ryder Cup standing. Should Sutton look at the President's Cup standings to make a decision on his two picks?
Tampa, Fla.

A. The U.S. Presidents Cup team is chosen based on PGA Tour earnings from the start of the 2004 season. That is much different than the system used to pick the Ryder Cup team. Players earn points based on top-10 finishes only for the Ryder Cup. Some have called for the system to be changed, as an 11th-place finish earns you nothing in regards to the Ryder Cup. As for looking at the Presidents Cup standings, it is doubtful that Sutton will pay any attention to them. They only take into account this year.

Q. Do you think it is unfair for a player who hits a good shot that lands in a divot to not be able to move it?
Kerry Joseph

A. As someone who has a hard enough time hitting the ball off a perfect lie in the fairway, yes. In terms of professional golfers, no. Many players have suggested that sand-filled divots should be considered ground-under-repair, allowing for a free drop. And under certain circumstances, that might be a good idea. But it shouldn't be a blanket rule. That is one of the vagaries of the game.

Q. What do you think Tiger's chances are at winning the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits? I know that he switched to a graphite shaft on his driver and he has been driving the ball much better than he used to with the steel shaft. Will that have an effect this week?
Pratik Patel
Titusville, Fla.

A. Woods' chances are excellent, as they are entering any tournament. He is still the No. 1 player in the world, the most consistent. He didn't make any putts at the British Open and still tied for ninth. He made just one bogey in 72 holes at the Buick Open and was 21 under par. He switched to a new driver at the Western Open and is hitting it better, with longer and more accurate drives. Distance and accuracy are important at Whistling Straits, and there is no reason to think Woods can't put it all together.

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com