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PGA Championship
Where: Kiawah Island, S.C.
Site: Kiawah Island (Ocean Course)
Yards: 7,776 Par: 72
First round
When: 1 p.m. Thursday

A major hurdle for Woods

Makes progress in game; pursuit of record stalled

– Tiger Woods gazed up every time he heard thunder crackling in the distance or the rain pounding the tent Tuesday, the kind of weather that could keep Kiawah Island from playing the way he would prefer at the PGA Championship.

Even more of a nuisance were the words written on a banner below the table where he sat.

“The Season’s Final Major. Glory’s Last Shot.”

As if he needed a reminder.

This suddenly has become familiar territory for Woods. The PGA Championship is his last chance this year to resume pursuit of the record 18 professional majors won by Jack Nicklaus. The number associated with Woods is 14 – not only is that how many majors he has won, this is the 14th major he has played since winning his last one.

He was tied for the lead halfway through the U.S. Open until stumbling to a 75-73 weekend at Olympic Club and not even cracking the top 20. He was in the penultimate group at the British Open, only to lose momentum with a triple bogey on the sixth hole of the final round.

That used to constitute failure. Now it’s progress.

“I’m pleased at the way I was able to play at certain times, and obviously disappointed that I did not win,” Woods said. “I’ve played in three major championships this year, and I didn’t win any of them. 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.”

Winning majors has rarely been harder. Such is the parity in golf these days that 16 players have won the last 16 majors, the longest streak in 25 years.

Woods attributes that to stronger and deeper fields, and scores so bunched that even players who are nine or 10 shots back going into the weekend have a chance to win.

Bubba Watson attributes it to Woods.

“Tiger Woods has made the game grow,” Watson said. “He’s grown this game across the world. People are watching him. People are watching how he practiced, how he trained.”

Woods could return to No. 1 in the world for the first time since Oct. 31, 2010, if he were to win the PGA Championship.

But that’s not what drives Woods. It’s the majors. That’s always been the case.

Now, there are no excuses. He is the favorite at Kiawah. He has been the favorite at every major this year.

“This year, I’ve won three tournaments, and it’s been a pretty good year,” Woods said. “I’ve been in there with a chance to win a few more. Physically, my game is way different than what it was last year. It’s been nice to be able to practice after each round, to have that option. That wasn’t the case last year. My game has improved because of it. And here we are.”