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Woods's last big chance to salvage lost season

READYING FOR THE HUNT: The world's top-ranked golfer Tiger Woods, who is going through one of his leanest patches, works on his swing with caddie Steve Williams on the eve of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, USA. — PHOTO: AFP

READYING FOR THE HUNT: The world's top-ranked golfer Tiger Woods, who is going through one of his leanest patches, works on his swing with caddie Steve Williams on the eve of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Kohler, USA. — PHOTO: AFP  

GOLF / Embattled champion's game in disarray ahead of PGA Championship

The PGA Championship returns to Whistling Straits this week with a South Korean defending champion and its star attraction trying to salvage a lost season.

Former winners Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and South Korea's Yang Yong-eun hope to once again seize the moment while World No.1 Tiger Woods' game is in disarray after coming off the worst performance of his career.

“Last week I didn't have anything,” Woods said between practice rounds here. “I have been through periods before where I hit it bad. Yeah, your confidence is not where it needs to be. We have all been there. Just life in general the last nine months has been very difficult.”

Atrocious performance

Woods' game has hit the skids. He is coming off his worst performance of his career last week when he shot a fourth-round 77 to finish in a tie for 78th at the World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational — a tournament he had won seven times. He finished 18-over 298, a whopping 30 shots behind winner Hunter Mahan.

“It is not a matter of how poorly I played the week before because this is a new week,” Woods said. “I have got to build my game day-by-day. I had two good practice sessions and that is a step in the right direction.”

While Woods is without a Major win for the first time in two years the same can't be said about Mickelson (Masters), Graeme McDowell (U.S. Open) and Louis Oosthuizen (British Open). They will all be seeking to make it a two-Major season at Whistling Straits which is hosting the event for the second time in six years.

Mickelson of the United States, McDowell of Northern Ireland and Oosthuizen of South Africa will begin off the first tee on Thursday afternoon.

In 2004, Singh, a Fijian-Indian, won a three-hole cumulative playoff over Americans Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco to become the fourth oldest PGA Championship winner at 41.

Singh's superb 2004 season included winning four tournaments heading into the PGA Championship and he continued his superb play through all four rounds and the playoff.

“I have good memories of the golf course,” said Singh, who also won the PGA Championship in 1998 and a Masters in 2000. “I am looking forward to it.”

Oosthuizen earned his first Major championship title with a seven-stroke win at last month's British Open.

He parleyed his strong play this season into a contender spot in the season's final Major championship which begins on Thursday on the links style course. “I am confident and quite anxious to start the tournament and gets things under way,” said Oosthuizen before setting out for his first practice round.

Looking forward

Oosthuizen said he is looking forward to the challenge of tackling the Whistling Straits course and its close to 1,000 bunkers.

“It could scar me for life,” Oosthuizen said. “I heard a few things about it. I am looking forward to just going out and seeing what it is like teeing off. It should be fun.”

Said DiMarco, “The course has a lot of distractions. The fairways are plenty big enough. The greens are plenty big enough. If you look at it like ‘Oh, my gosh look at all the trouble' then it is a very difficult golf course. It is a great venue for a Major for sure.”

Yang became the first Asian player to win a Major championship at last year's tournament held at Hazeltine National Golf Club. He shocked the golfing world by upsetting Woods and his feat was all the more remarkable because Woods hadn't lost a Major in which he led after 54 holes.

Woods and Yang will again battle side-by side through the first two rounds at Whistling Straits. Joining them in the threesome is Singh as the trio start their round on Thursday morning off the 10th tee and then Friday afternoon off the first tee.

Having their hands full

Justin Rose and Jim Furyk have multiple wins this season and have grown in stature. But they will have their hands full with the strongest field of any of the Majors in 2010.

“These are not the easiest of times economically,” said golf course owner Herb Kohler. “But we expect to have more of the top players of the world than any of the other Majors.”

Another player quietly lurking is South Africa's Ernie Els who will be competing in his 17th PGA Championship. The three-time Major winner is playing some of his best golf in a long time with a top-three finish at the U.S. Open and two wins in March. — AFP

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