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Without dominant Tiger Woods, PGA is anyone's major

Tiger Woods hits a shot during a practice

Tiger Woods hits a shot during a practice round for the 94th PGA Championship. (Aug. 7, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- It used to be as predictable as humidity in August down south: Tiger Woods would be a major factor in a major championship from Thursday morning through Sunday evening and often he would leave with a trophy. Now, for Woods, just getting into the mix is hit or miss, like coastal thunderstorms that pop up without any warning.

Woods will begin the PGA Championship at the Ocean Course Thursday mindful that winning a major is not what it used to be before his drought began four years ago.

"We're used to seeing guys like Phil [Mickelson] and Tiger just win tournaments and make it look very easy because of what great players they are," said Keegan Bradley, the defending champion and one of 16 different golfers to win the past 16 majors.

As Woods said Tuesday at his news conference, during a rainfall so hard that the media center roof was leaking: "Golf is getting deep. There are so many guys with a chance to win. The margins are so small. Hence, if you've got margins that are that small, you're going to get guys who win once here and there. You've got 70-plus guys within 10 shots, it seems, at every tour event."

For that, Woods has only himself to blame. It is partly because he opened the door to the rest of the field with the chaos of his personal life, from which his game -- especially his putting stroke -- never has completely recovered. And it is partly because he was so good and compelling that everybody copied him.

"People are watching how he practiced, how he trained, how he made golf a physical game," said Bubba Watson, the Masters champion. "He's strong. He can play golf with power and he can play it with precision, he can play it with a mental game, and everybody has taken note of that."

By anyone else's standards, Woods' season would rank as extreme success. He has won three tournaments and is within range of being No. 1 in the world ranking. But he has developed a pass-fail grading system, in which the majors count far more than anything else.

"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," he said. "But still, not winning a major championship doesn't feel very good."

Even at a time when the leaders in majors, and many other tournaments, are withering late on Sundays, Woods has not been able to pick a title as it was falling from a tree. He still knows the feeling of being right in the thick of it on the weekend, and he hungers for it. "I just loved being there. To me, it was a chance to make history. That, to me, was exciting," he said.

Even when it seemed like it was raining titles for him, he never did win a title from anywhere but the front on Sunday. "It's one of those things. But I also like having 14 of them, too. That's not a bad trade-off," he said, before the storm made it impossible to hear even the speaker-amplified questions and answers. Before heading out into the oceanfront elements, he said, "OK guys, let's go play some golf."

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