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Hot pursuit

Woods shrugs off theories, aims for first '07 major win

TULSA, Okla. -- Already broiled by a pulsating sun sitting in a cloudless sky, you are buffeted by warm, uncomfortable winds out here on the frontier. Then again, it's August, so tell players in the 89th PGA Championship something they didn't already expect from a visit to Southern Hills Country Club.

Well, how about the hot air that is circulating in the form of a theory that par-70 golf courses are the recipe for putting a stop to a phenomenon named Tiger Woods?

Such a suggestion nearly sent Jim Furyk into WD-land. Having skipped last week's Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, because of a twinge in his upper back, the world's second-ranked player reports he's feeling fine. Only the par-70 thing drew a sharp turn of his head and there was the fear of a recurrence of the injury. No fear, Furyk seemed fine; just perplexed regarding this new swirl of hot air.

"You can't Tiger-proof a golf course," said Furyk. "He's the best. What are you going to do? If you make it tough, he's still going to beat you because he's even better when it's tougher."

Oh, there are numbers available to suggest that par-70 golf courses do stymie Woods somewhat, but always it is necessary to remember that people can make numbers say what they want them to say. Of Woods's 12 major victories, only one -- the 2002 US Open at Bethpage Black on Long Island -- has come upon a par-70 layout. He has triumphed once on a par 71, while the other 10 have come at par 72s.

None of this data was relayed to Furyk, but he wouldn't have cared. He has been competing against Woods for the better part of 10-plus years, so he feels qualified to pass judgment. Call it a par 70 or a par 72, it doesn't matter. If you want to put a halt to Woods, he's got a solution.

"You're better off making the fairways 80 yards wide, the greens soft, and making it a putting contest so guys have a chance to beat him," said Furyk, and, yes, there was a smile on his face. Partly because he knows it's a silly notion -- no one is going to make courses easier -- and partly because he's prepared to tee it up in a major championship and on a golf course that suits his game, both of which are prospects for which he wasn't prepared last week.

"I was in a lot of pain and quite stiff [last week]," said Furyk, a serious threat here, given the way he's been playing -- his victory at the Canadian Open two weeks ago coming on top of a tie for 12th in the British Open and three straight finishes in the top five. The early departure from Firestone CC changed that landscape, but Furyk is talking optimistically.

He went to the PGA Tour physical fitness trailer Tuesday night, had a treatment, "and when I got up off the table, I felt like a new person. Right now, I'm healthy enough to play like I want to. If I can get it going, I'll be OK."

To "get it going" out here, one will have to do so without a feast of par 5s, because at the heart of Southern Hills are twisting and turning doglegs, fast-running fairways, and angled greens. There are but two par 5s, one being the 653-yard fifth that bends so sharply right-to-left that it's doubtful players will even try to reach. "That's not a birdie opportunity," said Furyk.

The 537-yard 13th? "It's reachable for the whole field," said Furyk, who pointed to himself and laughed, "because you know how far I hit it."

Nowhere near as far as Woods, which is why some will argue that the perpetual favorite is thwarted by the reduction in par 5s from four to two. Translation: Par 70s are not his forté.

Woods merely shrugs when the topic is broached.

"I tend to get that at courses where I played once and didn't win," said Woods, who was tied for 12th in 2001 when the US Open was staged at Southern Hills. "It's kind of the way it goes."

So when numbers are paraded about, there's little the world's perennial No. 1 can do but shrug.

As a professional, he's played 16 times upon major courses set up to a par of 70. Once he has won. It's not the sort of winning percentage he is used to, but there are extenuating circumstances at every turn. Most of those par-70 major championships, of course, have been US Open venues, which is run by officials who arguably go out of their way to set up exceedingly difficult layouts. Woods also had near-wins at Pinehurst in 1999 and 2005 and at Oakmont in June -- all of them par 70s, so it's not like he turns into a 12-handicapper when you take him to a par 70.

There is also the matter of what he has done at par-70 Firestone CC, which is win six times, most recently last Sunday's eight-shot demolition of the field. Asked to explain that, the par-70 theorists cannot. Furyk, however, does it for them.

"Firestone is one of my five favorite courses because it's tough," he said, and with a sly grin, he seemed to be reminding listeners of a point he made earlier about Woods.

"If you make it tough, he's still going to beat you because he's even better when it's tougher."

In that regard, Woods is very much like a giant in whose shadow he competes. Jack Nicklaus.

The owner of a record 18 majors, Nicklaus earned just four of them on par-70 venues -- the 1967 and 1980 US Opens at Baltusrol, the 1975 PGA at Firestone, the 1980 PGA at Oak Hill. Between 1962 and 1986 (his prime major championship years), the Golden Bear was challenged by a par-70 layout 33 times, so it's not like he didn't face the same dilemma that Woods faces now, yet another example of how their careers and their successes are so parallel.

That includes their unmatched quest for perfection, which means that winning is all they care about. Woods, like Nicklaus, will graciously shake an opponent's hand and acknowledge defeat, and both would be called "good losers" by the men who have been fortunate to prevail over them.

But that is not to say he enjoys that part of the reality. So when offered the hypothetical scenario of going winless in the season's four majors for just the fourth time since 1997, Woods was asked if he could draw comfort from the fact he was joint second in both the Masters and US Open.

The stare was the only thing cold this week.

"No," he said.

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