Woods goes for a hat trick without all the fuss

PGA Championship

August 10, 2005|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. - When Tiger Woods arrived at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky., for the 2000 PGA Championship, the hoopla surrounding the world's best player had reached hysterical proportions.

At the time, Woods was trying to duplicate what the legendary Ben Hogan had done nearly a half-century before by winning three major championships in the same year. Woods, then 24, accomplished the feat by beating Bob May in a playoff.

When Woods tees off tomorrow in the 87th PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club, he will be trying to do pretty much the same thing. But the setting is noticeably quieter, even to Woods.

"I think the atmosphere is nowhere near what it was in 2000, because I had won the U.S. Open by 15 and the British Open by eight, so 23 shots in two tournaments is pretty good," Woods said with a wry smile yesterday.

"On top of that I've done that before ... just the novelty factor is not there anymore. Hopefully, I can do it again."

Then, Woods was the prohibitive favorite to win nearly every tournament, even every major. This time, there seems to be more competition, and Woods, despite winning the Masters and the British Open and finishing second in the U.S. Open this year, seems to be more vulnerable.

"In 2000, he was a phenomenal player that nobody could touch," said Padraig Harrington of Ireland. "I think now he's still a great player, but I don't think he's probably as untouchable as he was in 2000."

In winning his fourth Masters and first major in nearly three years in April, Woods nearly gave away the tournament on the back nine Sunday with bogeys on the last two holes of regulation, then beat Chris DiMarco in sudden death.

In winning his second British Open - and 10th major championship - at St. Andrews last month, Woods went wire-to-wire but didn't obliterate the field as he had done the first time, settling for a five-stroke victory over Colin Montgomerie.

"[The media] act like I hit it great all the time back then," said Woods, who won seven times in a stretch of 11 majors. "I hit some bad shots. I've been playing this game a long time ... so I've hit a lot of bad shots over my life. It's one of those things that once you get out there, you just play and focus on where you need to place the golf ball.

"You may have bad experiences, but you block all of that out and put the ball where you need to put it. Sometimes my mechanics won't allow me to do that, and that's when it's frustrating, but a lot of times my mechanics do allow me to do that, and that's when I can get it going."

The swing changes he made with coach Hank Haney during his 10-major winless drought, which ended this year at Augusta, have apparently taken hold. Despite finishing next-to-last in putting at Pinehurst No. 2 in June's U.S. Open, Woods had a chance to win until he bogeyed 16 and 17 on Sunday.

"To putt that poorly and still have a chance to win the U.S. Open, that's when you know you're hitting the ball pretty good," said Woods, who wound up losing by two strokes to Michael Campbell of New Zealand. "So I was very excited about that, and I continued that at the Western and obviously at the British and the Buick as well."

It was during the third round of the recent Buick Open that the difference between 2000 and 2005 was evident. Trailing by a stroke and paired with Vijay Singh in the third round, Woods watched Singh do to him what he had done to so many others before. Singh shot 63 to Woods' 70 and went on to win easily.

Though Woods said certain aspects of his game are better than they were five years ago - specifically his iron play and chipping - the competition has improved.

"They are playing much better than they did then," Woods said. "It's a credit to everyone. We are all trying to get better. If you are standing still, then you're getting worse."

One thing for Woods certainly hasn't changed.

"The drive is still the same to go out there and win the championship, put myself there and hopefully come out on top," he said.

If anything is going against Woods here, it's history. He has had most of his success on courses he is familiar with, but he will be playing at Baltusrol for the first time. But this is where Jack Nicklaus won two U.S. Opens, and Woods would like nothing more than to make another dent into Nicklaus' record of 18 major professional titles.

"When I came here, I could see why a lot of people love this place, because it's fair," Woods said. "It's just one of those old-school courses where it is right in front of you. There are no hidden tricks."

PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Tomorrow - Sunday

Baltusrol Golf Club, Springfield, N.J.

TV tomorrow; TNT, 1 p.m. - 7 p.m.

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