SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) — Tiger Woods knows the concept of going through a transition, just not the numbers associated with this one.
His world ranking is No. 278. Throw out some of the past champions and the 20 club pros at the PGA Championship, and his ranking is the worst of all but two players at Whistling Straits — Nick Taylor and Darren Clarke.
He has not won a tournament in two years, and he has only one top 10 on the PGA Tour since.
And while his winless streak in the majors is at 23 dating to the 2008 U.S. Open, only once in the last six years has he gone into the final round within three shots or fewer of the lead. That was at Muirfield two years ago, and he closed with a 74 to finish five shots behind.
This is the new world of Woods at the majors. Expectations are lower than ever.
There wasn’t a lot of talk about Woods winning the PGA Championship. His main theme was taking baby steps.
“I’m just trying to get better,” Woods said after playing nine holes with Davis Love III. “I’m just trying to get up there where I can win tournaments, get my game organized so I can be consistent on a tournament basis where I’m going to give myself a chance to win each and every event I play in. That’s what I have done over most of my career. And I’d like to get to that point again where I could do it.”
Even if expectations are low, he is still Tiger Woods.
He had one of the largest galleries for a morning practice round at Whistling Straits, and he stopped to sign autographs heading to the next tee, which is unusual for him. Hundreds of fans stood below the steps of the media center when they saw Woods walk in, all of them holding flags for him to sign.
Woods, who turns 40 at the end of the year, made it clear at the Memorial (where he shot a career-high 85) that he was in this for the long haul. Different from past swing changes is that he is coping with what he keeps calling a “perfect storm” because the switch followed back surgery and recovery that cost him half the 2014 season.
Steve Stricker played with him two days at The Greenbrier Classic, where Woods tied for 32nd while posting his lowest 72-hole score (273) since his last win.
“He’s going through some down times,” Stricker said. “It looks like he’s getting things pushed back into shape and he’s getting stronger and healthier. I’ve talked to him. He’s feeling better. And it’s just about getting that confidence level back, him settling on what he wants to do with his swing and going from there, and then that confidence level will come back. … I expect him to get it back and get it going again.”
Still, it’s odd for Woods to be at a major and attract so little attention.
The majors this year have been about Jordan Spieth, the Masters and U.S. Open champion who missed by one shot a chance at the third leg of the Grand Slam at St. Andrews. Still in play at Whistling Straits is a chance to sweep the U.S. majors, which has never been done.
Rory McIlroy, the world’s No. 1 player, returns from an ankle injury that has kept him out since the U.S. Open. Dustin Johnson has had at least a share of the lead in four rounds at the majors this year and comes back to the course where a two-shot penalty on the final hole cost him a spot in the playoff.
Zach Johnson goes for back-to-back majors. Jason Day is trying to win his first after being in contention in the last two.
It’s a long list.
And at the moment, that list doesn’t include Woods. The greatest player of his generation, at the moment, is an afterthought.
Woods was going through swing changes during his two previous trips to Whistling Straits — with Hank Haney in 2004 (tie for 24th) and he was just starting to work with Sean Foley in 2010 (tie for 28th). So it’s not as if he has positive memories from this course.
“Tiger’s game has been flat-lined for the last couple years, and we’re starting to see a sign here or there that he might be able to orchestrate something at Whistling Straits,” longtime friend Notah Begay III said. “But it’s not a golf course that particularly suits his eye or his game.”
Woods was in contention going into the weekend at his Quicken Loans National until fading badly, but it was a step. Barring a turnaround, this likely will be his last event of the season. He is at No. 186 in the FedEx Cup, and only the top 125 qualify for the playoffs.
“I’m not looking at it like that at all,” Woods said. “I’m just trying to get my game better for years to come. … I’m here now in this position, and as far as my tournament future, if I play well, I play well and I’ll play in more events. If I don’t, then I have more time to practice and get ready for the following events the next season.”
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