Tiger Woods' quest for 18 majors hits bumps on road

Eighteen suddenly seems like an awfully large number, like Roger Maris' 61 and Hank Aaron's 755. Those figures towered over baseball until sluggers began injecting power into their veins.

But Tiger Woods won't be able to ingest his way to Jack Nicklaus' record for major championships. If there existed a pill to help make 12-footers, we all would have taken it by now.

Just 81/2 months ago, around the time Americans were pouring gravy on their stuffing and dark meat, Woods seemed an absolute cinch to reach 18.

Not yet 34, Woods had claimed 14 majors, one by 15 strokes (the 2000 U.S. Open), another by 12 (the 1997 Masters) and a third (the 2008 U.S. Open) on a knee that belonged on an operating table.

There was simply no debate.

Then Woods crashed his SUV in the early morning after Thanksgiving, and his losing streak began. He now has lost his swing, his wife, his coach and, most recently, his putting stroke. His dignity is up for debate, thanks to salacious details former flames provided.

This week brings the PGA Championship, aka Glory's Last Shot. It's also Woods' last chance to salvage something from a lost year.

The PGA returns to Whistling Straits, a visually stunning and so-called "links golf on steroids" layout on the shores of Lake Michigan north of Sheboygan, Wis.

Golf Digest commissioned a team to count the number of bunkers at Whistling Straits, and the tally was 967, a world record. If he does not contend, Woods might just want to hide in one of them.

Woods was a non-factor in the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He opened with a 75, survived the cut with a 69, stayed within nine shots of eventual winner Vijay Singh with another 69 and came home with a 73, finishing at 2 under and tied for 24th.

Singh's final-round 76 was the highest winning score by a PGA champion, but he birdied the first of a three-hole playoff to outlast Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco.

Woods has won the PGA four times, most recently at Tulsa's Southern Hills in 2007. If he fails to triumph next week, he will stretch his winless majors streak to eight.

At this point, the goateed Woods cannot win a minor, let alone a major.

His 4-over-par 74 Thursday at the Bridgestone Invitational was stunning, given that he had won seven times in 10 starts at Firestone and his previous worst first-round score was 68.

Woods hit two drives into the trees, clanked an approach shot off a TV tower and mock-bowed after making birdie on No.17, just his second of the day.

As he walked to the scoring trailer, one spectator reportedly barked: "You're washed up, Tiger. Give it up."

Woods is still a smidge ahead of Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood atop the world rankings, but he's 111th (behind someone named Josh Teater) in the FedEx Cup standings and in danger of needing a handout from Ryder Cup captain Corey Pavin to make the team.

Woods ranks ninth among Americans on the Ryder Cup points list, one spot from an automatic berth.

Asked three times Wednesday whether he would go to Wales this fall as a captain's pick, Woods repeated three times: "I'm planning on playing my way into the team."

Pavin has said he wants Woods on the team, but you have to wonder. In this, the PGA Tour's year of the 59 (and 60), Woods has broken 69 just three times.

His best results have come at majors — ties for fourth at the Masters and U.S. Open. He opened with a 67 on a calm day at St.Andrews before finishing an invisible T-23 at the British Open.

Woods had to withdraw from the Players Championship with a neck injury, revealed in April that he played 2009 on a torn right Achilles tendon and has had multiple surgeries on his left knee.

He will turn 35 on Dec.30. A suddenly old 35.

In January, with Woods out of sight, Nicklaus said: "If Tiger is going to pass my record, this is a big year for him."

After Woods went 0-for-3 at major venues he used to dominate, Nicklaus was asked again.

"Do I still think Tiger will break my record? Yeah, I think he probably will," he said. "He is a very dedicated, hard-working golfer.

"But then again, I always said you have to do it. It's not just a gimme. You have got to go do it.

"We'll watch."


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