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Woods's struggles put him in a major number crunch



Eighteen suddenly seems like an awfully large number, like Roger Maris's 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's record for major championships. If there existed a pill to help make 12-footers, we all would have taken it by now.

Just 8 1/2 months ago, around the time Americans were pouring gravy on their stuffing and dark-meat turkey, 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. And in the just completed Bridgestone Invitational, Woods played the worst four rounds of his illustrious career, carding an astronomical 298, including a 77 on Sunday. All of that meant he finished tied for 78th, the worst of his career.

His dignity is up for debate, thanks to salacious details former flames provided.

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

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

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

Woods was a non-factor in the 2004 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. He opened with 75, survived the cut with 69, stayed within nine shots of eventual winner Vijay Singh with another 69 and came home with 73, finishing at two 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 this week, he'll stretch his winless streak to eight.

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

His 4-over-par 74 on Thursday at the Bridgestone 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 smidgen ahead of Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood atop the world golf 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 actually have come at majors -- a tie for fourth at both the Masters and U.S. Open. He opened with 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 gimme. You have got to go do it.quot;

"We'll watch."



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