© St. Petersburg Times, published August 11, 2002
No doubt, there were some long faces at Hazeltine National Golf Club three weeks ago as an all-but-frozen Tiger Woods flailed in the wind at Muirfield, his Grand Slam hopes blown away.
Hazeltine is the site of this week's PGA Championship, and the thought of Woods arriving in the Minneapolis suburbs with a shot at sports history was a daydreamers' delight.
Never has a player gone into the final major championship of the year with a chance to sweep the four most important tournaments in a season.
Of course, Woods' third-round 81 at the British Open took care of any such scenario. Woods was knocked out of contention, and Ernie Els earned the Claret Jug.
The fight for the Wanamaker Trophy (given to the PGA Championship winner) doesn't seem as significant, but only in the context of what could have been.
The last major on the calendar typically struggles to capture the interest of the other three. But it often has provided great drama.
There was Woods' playoff victory over Bob May two years ago, his one-shot victory in 1999 over Sergio Garcia. It was where Davis Love won his only major in 1997, where Nick Price won twice (in 1992 and 1994), where Paul Azinger won his lone major in 1993 months before being diagnosed with cancer and where John Daly burst upon the scene in 1991. In fact, 11 of the past 14 PGA Championship winners had not won a major coming in.
"It would have been a great bonus to have Tiger come here looking for the Slam," said Mike Schultz, the head pro at Hazeltine National. "But before he won the U.S. Open, we weren't gearing for the Slam, anyhow. It would have been great to see and a nice piece of history to be a part of. But the PGA is still the last major of the year, and it's going to be here. Great players will be here and Tiger will be here."
And more major-championship glory will be bestowed. No, Woods can't capture a Grand Slam. But as he pointed out last week, he can make a different kind of history. He could be the first to win three majors in the same year twice.
"Myself and (Ben) Hogan are the only ones who have ever won three in the same year," Woods said. "So that would be nice to win three out of four again."
Hazeltine, site of U.S. Open wins by Tony Jacklin in 1970 and Payne Stewart in 1991, measures 7,360 yards. That figures to favor long hitters such as Woods, who tied for 28th at the British Open but has won seven of the past 12 majors.
But there is Els, who could make a major statement by claiming his second straight Grand Slam event, perhaps truly emerging as a rival to Woods. Maybe Phil Mickelson or Garcia can claim a first major. Garcia and Padraig Harrington are the only players to finish in the top 10 in each major this year. Maybe David Duval will emerge from his malaise.
Or we could get another unheralded major winner such as David Toms, who won the title a year ago at the Atlanta Athletic Club, where he outdueled Mickelson down the stretch and set a tournament scoring record.
The PGA Championship has been around since 1916, making it 18 years older than the Masters.
It can't offer the mystique of Augusta National, nor can it claim to be our country's national championship like the U.S. Open or even the oldest championship, which is the British Open.
But the PGA Championship is one of the big four. And though Woods can't capture a Grand Slam this year, he can add another major to his list of eight.
And it counts just the same.
"How can you have a letdown?" Woods said. "It's a major championship, and the last one of the year."