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Inside the Ropes: Woods must regain major aggressiveness

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Will Tiger Woods ever win another major?

That's the biggest question in golf heading into the PGA Championship, the fourth and final major of the season, this week at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y.

In his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 titles in the Grand Slam events, Woods has been stuck on 14 since winning the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines in an epic 19-hole playoff against Rocco Mediate.

"I've won 14, and in that spell where I haven't won since Torrey, I've been in there," Woods said after tying for sixth in the Open Championship at Muirfield. "It's not like I've lost my card and (I'm) not playing out here.

"So I've won some tournaments in that stretch and I've been in probably about half the majors on the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win during that stretch. I just haven't done it yet. And hopefully it will be in a few weeks (at the PGA)."

Sure, Woods has finished in the top 10 nine times in the 17 majors he has played since 2009, but a pattern has developed in which he puts himself in position but fails to get the job done on the weekends.

That wasn't the case last weekend, when he cruised to a seven-shot win in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational. However, it seems Woods is playing more conservatively in the Grand Slam events than he did before, rather than going out at taking charge.

Of course, players can't be overly aggressive in the majors the way the courses are set up. Phil Mickelson used to go for everything, leading to some incredible highs and the lowest of the lows, especially in the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot, when he double-bogeyed the final hole and lost by one stroke to Geoff Ogilvy.

The trick is, trying to figure out exactly when to go for broke.

In the 2010 Masters, Mickelson hit a risky 6-iron shot from 207 yards off the pine straw onto the 13th green at Augusta National and went on to make a birdie that provided the impetus in a three-stroke victory over Lee Westwood.

Lefty might not admit it, but he never wanted that ball to hit on the right side of the green. He had to be aiming for the ridge on the left side of the green and got a little fortunate, but sometimes a little luck is needed.

Had the shot been a few feet short, his ball wound have wound up in Rae's Creek and led to a big number, which could have left Westwood wearing the Green Jacket.

The point is, Mickelson figured it was time to take a chance and pulled it off.

The same thing happened three weeks ago at Muirfield.

Lefty reached the par-5 17th hole with a one-stroke lead in the final round and figured it was time to go for it. He didn't have a driver in his bag, so he hit two shots with his nuclear 3-wood and reached the green to set up a birdie that basically locked up his first victory in the oldest championship in the world.

Even as he stood over the ball, on-course announcers were saying they didn't think he could reach the green from 303 yards, but he morphed back into "Phil the Thrill" and made it happen.

Those are kind of things Tiger used to do in the majors when the time came.

By contrast, Woods reached the same 17th hole the day before in a tie for the lead with Westwood and seemingly got caught in between being conservative and playing aggressively.

After laying back with an iron off the tee, he tried to reach the green or at least get close to it with his 3-wood, but his shot ballooned in the wind and wound up in a cross bunker.

Woods made bogey on the hole, fell two shots behind when Westwood carded a birdie, and Tiger never saw the lead again.

Had he been aggressive off the tee with his driver or 3-wood, even if he hit his ball into the rough, he could have laid up in the fairway on his second shot before going for the green with a relatively short iron.

Woods still would have had a chance for birdie and probably the worst score he could have come away with was par.

Steve Williams, Woods' former caddie who now works with Adam Scott and seems to have made up with his boss after their 2011 breakup, was asked about Tiger after watching him up close in the final round at Muirfield.

"Having seen him up close now three times in recent weeks, 36 holes at Merion (in the U.S. Open) and 18 here, everything looks good in his game and his swing," Williams said. "But the one thing that's missing is his old aggressiveness."

Another area in which Woods has become more conservative in the majors is on the green. He said at Muirfield that he never got used to the speed of the greens, which became slower every day.

That has been another constant theme is his major drought, leaving putts short. That never happened in his salad days, when he always got the ball to the hole because he wasn't worried about the next putt, if he missed, until he faced it.

One more thing about Woods in the majors is the claim made over and over again that he has never come from behind in the final round to win one, which is absolutely untrue.

What is accurate is that he has never trailed after 54 holes in one of the Grand Slam events and come back to win it.

In the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, he came from behind with a birdie on the final green on Sunday, on a putt that he got to the hole, to tie Mediate and force the playoff.

And, of course, it's much more difficult to rally with one hole left than it is with 18 remaining.

Tiger simply must remember how he did that and figure out when to go for it.
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