Final major produces unique drama


CHASKA, Minn. -- So much for a letdown. Tiger Woods pretty much obliterated that theory, didn't he? In his first tournament after the Grand Slam was blown away in the wind, he wins.

Now he's got a chance to win his third major championship of the year.

"How can you have a letdown?" Woods said. "It's a major championship, and the last one of the year."

By many accounts, however, you'd think they should have just canceled this week's PGA Championship. That was the tone after Woods failed to win last month's British Open, which would have made the PGA Championship an all-world sporting event.

No doubt, there were some long faces at Hazeltine National Golf Club three weeks ago as an all-but-frozen Woods flailed in the wind at Muirfield, his Grand Slam dissolved in sideways rain.

Hazeltine is the sight of the 84th PGA Championship, and the thought of Woods arriving in the Minneapolis suburbs with a shot at sports history was a daydreamer's delight.

Never has a player gone into the fourth and final major championship of the year with a chance to sweep the four most important tournaments in the same season.

Of course, Woods' third-round 81 at the British Open took care of any such scenario. Woods was knocked out of contention, and Ernie Els went on to claim the Claret Jug.

The fight for the Wanamaker Trophy (given to the PGA Championship winner) doesn't seem as significant -- but only in the context of what could have been.

The major that is last on the calender typically struggles to capture the same interest as the other three. But it has often provided great drama.

There was Woods' playoff victory over Bob May two years ago, his one-shot victory in 1999 over Sergio Garcia. It was where Davis Love won his only major in 1997, where Nick Price won twice (in 1992 and '94), where Paul Azinger won his lone major in 1993 months before being diagnosed with cancer and where John Daly burst upon the scene in 1991. In fact, 11 of the last 14 PGA Championship winners had not won a major prior to their victory.

"It would have been a great bonus to have Tiger come here looking for the Slam," said Mike Schultz, the head pro at Hazeltine National. "But before he won the U.S. Open, we weren't gearing for the Slam, anyhow. It would have been great to see and a nice piece of history to be a part of. But the PGA is still the last major of the year, and it's going to be here. Great players will be here and Tiger will be here."

Yes, and more major championship glory will be bestowed. No, Woods can't capture a Grand Slam. But as he correctly pointed out last week, he can make a different kind of history.

He could become the first player to win three majors in the same year twice.

"Myself and (Ben) Hogan are the only ones who have ever won three in the same year," Woods said. "So that would be nice to win three out of four again."

Hogan won the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open in 1953. Woods won the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship in 2000. He is bidding to win the "American Slam" this year -- victories at the American majors, Masters, U.S. Open and PGA.

Hazeltine, site of Tony Jacklin's U.S. Open victory in 1970 and a U.S. Open win by Payne Stewart in 1991, measures 7,360 yards and figures to favor long hitters such as Woods, who tied for 28th at the British Open but has still won seven of the last 12 majors.

But there is Els, who could make a major statement by claiming his second straight Grand Slam event, perhaps truly emerging as a rival to Woods. Maybe Phil Mickelson or Garcia can claim his first major. Garcia and Ireland's Padraig Harrington are the only players to finish in the top 10 in each of the three majors this year. Maybe David Duval will emerge from his malaise.

Or we could get another unheralded major winner such as David Toms, who won the championship a year ago at the Atlanta Athletic Club, where he out-dueled Mickelson down the stretch and finished with a PGA Championship scoring record.

The tournament boasts a major first: each of the top 100 players in the world ranking is entered. That couldn't happen at the Masters, which has an invitation-only field, nor at the U.S. Open or British Open, which allow qualifiers into their tournaments.

The PGA Championship has been around since 1916, making it 18 years older than the Masters.

It can't offer the mystique of Augusta National, nor can it claim to be our country's national championship like the U.S. Open or even the oldest championship, such as the British Open.

But the PGA Championship is one of the big four. And although Woods can't capture a Grand Slam this year, he can add another major to his list of eight.

And it counts just the same.

Bob Harig of the St. Petersburg Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com