KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. — Lightning strikes chased Tiger Woods from the driving range into the media center, and his pre-PGA Championship news conference had an ominous ring with the accompanying thunderclaps.
“Now let’s play some golf,” joked Woods as his interview session finished with reporters scurrying to dodge leaks in the tent.
He hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open, and his insistence that “I’ve got plenty of time” to close the four-major gap on Jack Nickaus’ record sounds a little less genuine with each passing oh-fer season.
The four-time PGA champion faces his fourth consecutive major finale adhering to the catch-phrase of “Glory’s Last Shot.” He lost his only career Sunday lead in 2009 to Y.E. Yang, quietly finished 28th in 2010 and wildly missed the cut last year in Atlanta.
This time, however, Woods feels closer to the breakout major win that defines an already “good” season with three wins as a “great” season.
“The last couple years my game was not where it’s at right now,” Woods said. “This year I’ve won three tournaments, and it’s been a pretty good year. I’ve been in there with a chance to win a few more. It’s a totally different. Physically my game is way different than what it was last year.”
Woods certainly seems to be sneaking up on his old self. He held the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open at Olympic before crumbling on the weekend. He game-planned his way into contention in the British Open at Royal Lytham before burying himself in a bunker with a crippling triple on Sunday.
“I was just right there,” he said of Lytham. “Just one shot that was a yard away turned that whole tournament around for me.”
Woods said he was both encouraged and discouraged by his performance in the previous two majors.
“I’m pleased at the way I was able to play at certain parts of it and at certain times, and obviously disappointed that I did not win,” he said. “I’ve played in three major championships this year, and I didn’t win any of them. So that’s the goal. I was there at the U.S. Open after two days and I was right there with a chance at the British Open. Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn’t feel very good.”
As the streak of different major winners dating back to 2008 reaches 16, Woods admits that it seems harder to win majors now than it was earlier in his career. The gap between the top and the bottom of the fields is closer than ever, he says.
“Golf is getting deep,” he said. “There’s so many guys with a chance to win. The margin is getting smaller. There may be 16 different winners, but you look at the cuts, the cuts are getting lower. The scores between the leader and the guy who is 70th and tied, sometimes it’s 10 shots or less, which is amazing. … The margins are so small, and hence, if you’ve got margins that are that small, you’re going to get guys who win once here and there.”
For Woods to become the 17th guy in the streak, he’ll have to do it on a Pete Dye course that on the surface would seem to suit his game. Woods hasn’t dominated Dye venues the way he has other designers, winning only once in his pro career on a Dye course at the 2001 Players Championship at Sawgrass.
But Woods insists the “Dye-abolical” designs aren’t tailored against him.
“The golf courses that I have played that are Pete’s, I do like them,” he said. “Just because of the fact that you have to think. You can’t just go up there and just swing away and hit it and go find it.”
While Woods puts together another game-plan to tackle a long, soft and unforgiving Kiawah, all the pieces of his new swing and healthier outlook are coming together.
“This is the way I can play,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to do the things that I know I can do.”