Thursday, July 10

A different kind of challenge for Tiger
By Bob Harig


CHASKA, Minn. -- Tiger Woods has done just about everything in his brief, yet brilliant, career.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods has never come from behind in the final round to win a major; he faces that challenge Sunday.

But he's never come from behind to win a major championship.

This is mainly a product of his own greatness. Woods has won four major championships in a row, captured a career Grand Slam and become the first player in 30 years to win the Masters and U.S. Open in the same season.

But each time, he's done so looking up at no one.

Woods has eight major trophies on his mantle, and each one was secured with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. He's eight-for-eight in such circumstances.

So Sunday's final round of the PGA Championship presents a different kind of challenge.

For the first time since the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, Woods has a chance to win a major when not in the lead.

It is a strange, yet all-too-understandable phenomena. Woods is seemingly at the top of the pack in a major, or nowhere to be found.

This time, he's within striking distance, even if it's five shots behind 1997 British Open winner Justin Leonard.

"Oh, (five) shots is way too much,'' Woods said in mock indignation, when asked if he could overcome such a deficit. He laughed. "Come on.'' It isn't so funny, however. The last time Woods was this close in a major without leading, he shot a 70 during the final round of the 1999 U.S. Open and tied for third, two shots behind Payne Stewart. He began the round two back.

At the 1998 British Open, Woods trailed by three, shot a 66, but missed a playoff with Mark O'Meara and Brian Watts by a single shot.

In all of the other majors that he did not win, Woods was too far back heading into the final round to be a factor.

"All I have to do is just play well, make putts,'' said Woods, who made several key par putts Saturday when shooting 72 but just one birdie. "It's really no big secret. There's only a few guys ahead of me, and tomorrow, I just need to go out there and play solid. I need to hit some good shots, because this golf course is playing so hard right now, with the wind blowing this hard and the pins where they are tucked. . .. it's brutal out there.'' The good news for Woods is that there are only two players between him and Leonard, none who has ever proven he could handle this situation.

Rich Beem, who won the International two weeks ago, is playing in just his fourth major championship. He's three behind Leonard and only two ahead of Woods. Fred Funk, 46, has posted just two top-10s in majors. He is four back of Leonard and only one ahead of Woods.

Although Woods praised Leonard's ability to handle the tricky winds at Hazeltine in an excellent round of 69, the only score in the 60s, he also knows Leonard's history. Like so many players, Leonard was poised to win a bunch of majors until Woods came along. He captured the '97 British Open three months after Woods' historic Masters victory. He's still waiting for his second major, while Woods has racked up seven more since.

And then there are the swing changes Leonard has endured under, of all people, Butch Harmon, the man made famous for helping Woods.

"The person I watch is the one closest to me,'' Leonard said. "But, you know, I'm human. So obviously I'm going to look and see how Tiger is doing. Does he intimidate me? Sure, at times, he does. "He hasn't done it this week, and if I go out and do my job tomorrow, then he won't tomorrow, either.''

This is a rare occurrence, a time when Woods is behind, but within sight. But it is the first time he's been in this position since acquiring his spot of dominance atop the major world.

He'll probably need some help from Leonard to get the job done this time, but who knows what a couple of early birdies might do? No doubt, as Leonard said, Woods is hard to ignore.

"You know, really, the only chance the other players have got is when he's not really in contention, like he was last year at my U.S. Open,'' said Retief Goosen, who won the 2001 U.S. Open with Woods out of the picture. "I think everybody is still looking where he is.'' For Woods, in a career of so many accomplishments, a victory Sunday would be a different kind of first.

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











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AUDIO / VIDEO  
Video
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ESPN's Scott Van Pelt reports from the third round of PGA Championship.
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Justin Leonard and Tiger Woods review their third round performances.
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