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PGA CHAMPIONSHIP: Tiger Woods withdraws after Saturday 79 … Southern Hills giving world’s best fits

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TULSA, Okla. — Maybe it was a sign of things to come when Tiger Woods’ injured right leg seemed to randomly buckle during Saturday’s warm-up at the PGA Championship as he made his way into a practice area bunker at Southern Hills. Hours after signing his scorecard, and shortly after play ended for the day, Woods withdrew from the season’s second major.

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Despite saying before the tournament that his leg was stronger than it was at Augusta, he looks to be in more pain this week. On Saturday, he began stretching his injured leg and walking with a pronounced limp on the second hole.

When asked if he’d play on Sunday, Woods replied: “Well, I’m sore. I know that for a fact. We’ll do some work and see how it goes.”

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Apparently it didn’t go well.

Woods shot a nine-over-par 79 in the third round, the worst score of his career at this major championship.

A day after entertaining the golf world with another gritty battle to make the cut, a hobbled Woods appeared to have little left in the tank on a strangely cold day in Tulsa.

“I didn’t do anything right, I didn’t hit many good shots,” Woods said after his round. “Consequently, I ended up with a pretty high score.”

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In each of the six previous PGA Championship rounds Woods has played at Southern Hills — where he won in 2007 — the temperature has reached at least 31C. It was 12C when he teed off on Saturday.

What Woods has told us during this latest comeback is that warm is better than cold, flat is better than hilly, and so far he’s also shown us that Fridays are better than Saturdays. His return to golf at the Masters in April saw a Saturday 78 after an exhausting journey to make it to the weekend.

All eyes will be on where Woods will make his next start. The U.S. Open is less than a month away and is an obvious target. Jack Nicklaus’ Memorial Tournament is in two weeks and used to be a staple for Woods. It would be a useful tune-up for Tiger if he hopes to do anything more than fight on Friday to make the cut.

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It likely will all depend on the golfer’s physical state, which is something we might be saying for quite a long time.

THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
Professional golfers are very much creatures of habit, and through three rounds of the PGA Championship it’s clear that Southern Hills has pushed them far out of their comfort zone. The change of temperature and wind direction on Saturday gave players fits, but the golf course has been playing like a rock in a golfer’s shoe all week long.

Few things frustrate players more than shots they thought were good, finishing bad. For most weekend golfers, it’s to be expected — just bad luck or the rub of the green — but for men who have spent their lives trying to eliminate the variables of this most variable of games, it drives them crazy.

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There has been no shortage of players this week hitting shots that land on the green before rolling onto one of the course’s many large run-off areas.

“Greens around here fall-off sort of everywhere,” Adam Hadwin said.

The greens feature slopes that, while often subtle, are seemingly endless and do a great job rejecting approach shots. That means landing areas are much smaller than they look on television, and once wind enters the equation — as it has this week — the margin for error becomes extremely small at Southern Hills.

Even routine pitch shots from around the green are looking rather untidy, and after a brief chat with Canadian golfer Graham DeLaet, who is here working with TSN, it likely comes down to how difficult it is to put adequate spin on the ball when pitching or chipping into the grain on this very grainy Bermuda grass.

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The bunkers have received even more scorn from players. Life on the PGA Tour means soft, consistent, beautifully manicured sand. That’s not the case at Southern Hills where the pebbly, coarse grains of sand have been giving players fits.

“I haven’t seen bunkers with that kind of sand, gravelly sand, too often lately,” said Bernd Wiesberger.

Despite numerous practice rounds, players have largely been unable to adjust.

“It’s really difficult to get spin, basically impossible,” Thomas said.

Not only are bunkers actually true hazards this week instead of places players aim to avoid the rough, the sand has even been affecting some putts.

“Quite a lot of larger pebbles,” Wiesberger said. “You see a lot of them on the greens surface as well when the players try to swipe them off their lines.”

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Speaking of the greens, the world’s top players like them running very fast because that’s what they see week-to-week on tour. Once again, not this week. Especially not during Friday’s second round when the greens weren’t mown for fear heavy winds could move golf balls, which would not only be a major embarrassment but could have caused a stoppage of play.

“They can’t get that fast anyway just because they’re pretty slopey, but I don’t think these green surfaces are the smoothest to begin with,” Brooks Koepka said.

Mown or not mown, a major championship is always more fun with a few players moaning.

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