Woods digs himself stunningly deep hole

THE BALTIMORE SUN

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- When Tiger Woods rolled in a 15-footer for birdie on the par-4 14th hole yesterday at Oak Hill, the world's No. 1 player pumped his arms in mock celebration and bowed deeply toward the gallery.

It was not only the first birdie in the third round of the 85th PGA Championship for Woods, but also his first birdie in a stretch of 27 frustrating holes.

Woods also showed his sense of humor when he then birdied the par-3 15th and walked onto the tee box with his playing partner, reigning U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk.

"I apologized to Jim for taking [the honor of hitting first on] the tee," Woods said later. "He had it for the first hole and every hole till then. He made birdie on 14 and I topped him there. I told him, 'You'll probably get it back soon.' "

Today will culminate one of the most disappointing major-championship seasons in Woods' legendary career, his second as a pro without a victory in the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and, most likely, PGA.

At 9-over-par 219 after shooting 2-over 73, Woods is 13 strokes behind co-leaders Shaun Micheel and Chad Campbell.

Tied for 43rd, Woods has some work to do to avoid his worst finish in a major. He tied for 29th in the 1997 PGA Championship at Winged Foot and the 2001 PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club.

Woods will have to shoot no worse than par to prevent tying his worst score ever as a pro. In the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, he finished 10 over par. It also means that he has gone six straight majors without a victory.

"I've done it before," said Woods, who went 10 straight majors without a victory while he was completely revamping his swing after his historic win in the 1997 Masters. "It won't be the last time and certainly hasn't been the first time. You're going to go years where you just don't win. That's OK, as long as you keep trying to improve."

Unlike with Carnoustie, Woods is blaming himself more than the way the course was set up.

"It's the hardest, fairest golf course we've ever played," Woods said of Oak Hill. "Carnoustie wasn't fair that year. But this is by far the hardest. The wind hasn't blown yet. We've gotten kind of lucky. If it would have blown around this golf course, over par would have won this tournament easily."

Woods didn't hit a fairway off the tee until the ninth hole yesterday, and only hit four of 14 fairways the entire round. As a result, he only hit six greens in regulation, and again was saved by his putting. He took just 26 putts.

As is his nature, he doesn't think he is as far off the top of his game as it appears.

"I'm just a little off," Woods said. "On a golf course this penal, you can't be a little off and expect to be OK. You have to drive it great and hit your irons in the correct spots to have birdie putts. The only thing I'm really doing well is I'm putting pretty good. I just haven't had enough looks at birdies."

Woods also admitted that the competition has closed the gap, perhaps dramatically, from where it was when he won seven of 11 majors between the 1999 PGA Championship and the 2001 Masters.

"The depth of the tour is just getting that much deeper," said Woods.

Funk keeps it together

As Fred Funk strode down the first fairway yesterday, a fan yelled loudly, "Funkamania!"

The scene was reminiscent of last year's PGA Championship at Hazeltine outside Minneapolis, where the former University of Maryland coach was in the lead the first two days and stayed in contention throughout, finishing tied for fourth.

Since shooting an opening-round 69 and getting to 3 under during the first and second rounds, he hasn't quite made the same kind of run this year. But after a 73 Friday and struggling early yesterday, Funk held it together to finish even-par.

Tied for ninth at 2-over 212, he likely will remain 12th on the money list for Presidents Cup consideration. The top 10 are automatically in and the last two spots will be picked tomorrow by U.S. captain Jack Nicklaus for the November competition in South Africa.

"It would be hard to win ... but I can still have a really good week and I can take care of business on my own; at least force Jack to make the decision himself and go 11th or 12th," Funk said.

And should he get picked, Funk said, "That would be the thrill of my golf career."

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