LONDON: Tiger Woods, recently reunited with his old driver, goes into next week's US PGA Championship at Oak Hill Country Club hunting his first Grand Slam title for 14 months.
The world number one has not clinched a major championship since last year's US Open at Bethpage Black and is determined to end his drought soon, if only to halt media talk of a 'Tiger slump'.
Although the 27-year-old American has won four times in 13 starts this season, his failure to make an impact at the US Masters in April and the US Open at Olympia Fields got the media tongues wagging.
Woods was in prime position to triumph in last month's British Open at Royal St George's but his anticipated last-day charge failed to materialise and he had to settle for a share of fourth, two shots behind shock winner Ben Curtis.
Woods, who has never come from behind to win a major championship, conceded that the best player on the day had emerged triumphant.
You can look at that in just about every major championship, said the eight-times major champion after failing to apply pressure on rookie Curtis down the stretch.
It's going to work out for somebody and Ben's win is pretty remarkable because generally you don't find a person playing in his first Open championship being not only able to contend but to win in the end.
It just goes to show that anybody who is playing well can win any tournament in the world.
Much more worrying for the game's leading player, however, has been his battle for driving consistency during 2003.
Unlike his rivals Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, Woods has chosen not to take advantage of the latest advances in golf club technology, eschewing raw power off the tee for greater accuracy and control.
But, while the likes of Els and Mickelson have been smiting the ball regularly in excess of 300 yards this year, Woods has been relatively short off the tee, and erratic by his usual lofty standards.
In 2002, he was sixth in average driving distance; this year he has slipped to 19th.
In 1999 and 2000, he was ranked 49th and 54th in driving accuracy.
This season, he has slumped to 119th with an average percentage of 65, and is sandwiched by the unlikely duo of Japan's Akio Sadakata and American Brent Schwarzrock.
Hardly surprising, then, that Woods opted to ditch his Nike driver for last week's Buick Open and switch back to his trusty 1997 Titleist 975D.
It feels good to step up and hit something I feel confident hitting, he said, before tying for second at Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club following scores of 69, 65, 69 and 66.
Benefiting from a good practice session late on the Saturday, he struck the ball impressively in the Buick Open final round to give himself a welcome shot of confidence going into the US PGA Championship in Rochester, New York.
That session really put my mind at ease, he said. I feel really good about my game.
Woods, winner of back-to-back US PGA Championship titles in 1999 and 2000, does not plan to play a practice round at Oak Hill Country Club's East Course until Monday.
I'll treat this the same as all the others, he said. Same focus, same mind-set, same preparation.
Hopefully, it works out. It has worked in the past. The key is to put yourself there and hopefully you outplay the other guy.
Woods sets his stall by major victories.
Despite his driving accuracy problems this year, it would take a brave soul to bet against him winning a ninth major championship in Rochester next week. Reuters