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Phil Bought a Team, So Will Tiger?

KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. - Were those raindrops pounding down on the media tent, drowning out Tiger Woods' voice? Or, the way Woods rolled his eyes in bewilderment at the sound, were they coins of his realm, silver dollars, 50-cent pieces or quarters?

We had gone past Tiger’s monthly disappointments and possibilities, the same items invoked almost every time he sits down in front of the journalists and behind a microphone.

“Wondering,’’ someone ventured, “how you feel about your game this year versus last year,’’

“Yeah,’’ responded Woods, “the last couple of years my game was not where it’s at right now.’’

Understandably, neither is his gross income, although according to a report in Forbes magazine, even though down 50 percent from the glory years of majors, sponsors and a secret life, still is No. 1 among those who golf for a living, $61.2 million.

Phil Mickelson, second at $46.7 million, recently invested in his hometown ballclub, the San Diego Padres, which naturally brought forth the question whether Woods “could ever see himself maybe wanting a piece of one of your favorite teams?’’

“Absolutely,’’ Tiger answered quickly, and then paused. “I just need a lot more money. My teams are the Lakers, Dodgers and the Raiders; so I’ve got to play really well.’’

He’s played well in 2012. Not at the right times. There have been three victories. He leads the standings for the Ryder Cup team, which will be named next week. He leads the FedEx Cup standings. He just hasn’t won a major. This year or any year since 2008.

That the final major of every year, the PGA Championship has been nicknamed “Glory’s Last Shot,’’ gains a certain relevance for Woods. This last shot begins Thursday at the mixture of dunes, inlets and wild grasses called Kiawah Island’s Ocean Course.

The place, an hour’s drive through palms and oaks south of Charleston, has been modified since the 1991 Ryder Cup was held here. It was then David Feherty, still a golfer, not yet a TV commentator, when asked if Kiawah reminded him of something from Scotland or his native Ireland, grumbled, “It’s like something from Mars.’’

“Kiawah can never be like any other course,’’ the designer, Pete Dye, told the New York Times. “It is the only course we built that walks and swims. It is of the land and of the water.’’

Not too long ago, Woods seemed the only golfer able to walk on water. He was collecting majors rapidly and was No. 1 forever. Then the decline and fall. Now the partial restoration, except he’s stuck on the 14 major victories, the same number as in June 2008, four fewer than Jack Nicklaus.

And, of course, the figures were tossed at Woods who, on his toes – hey, the guy went to Stanford, didn’t he? – tossed them right back. Duck!

Does Woods feel more “urgency,’’ in the great quest, since he’s gone four years without a major? A dumb question, in a way, because Tiger never is going to admit to any sort of panic.

“Well, I figure it’s going to take a career,’’ Woods said smartly, because the whole issue is about careers, Tiger’s and Jack’s, and the subjective debate over who is the greatest.

“It’s going to take a long time,’’ he continued. “Jack didn’t finish his until he was 46 (when he won his 18th, the 1986 Masters). So if you go by that timetable I’ve got 10 more years.’’

Woods referred to another alum from Stanford, Tom Watson, who at age 59 in 2009, came within a shot of winning the British Open, bogeying the 72nd hole and lost in a playoff. He referred to Greg Norman leading the 2008 British after 54 holes at age 53.

“Four majors is a lot,’’ Woods agreed, “but I’ve got plenty of time.’’

The time seemed right at San Francisco’s Olympic Club in June when Woods shared the halfway lead. Yet at the finish he was six shots back of Webb Simpson.

“Olympic,’’ said Woods, “it doesn’t take much. You can land the ball in the fairway and end up in the rough. Then you can’t control it going into the greens. That’s what happened Saturday. Then on Sunday, having to go out and force the issue, I got off to a slow start and went the other way.’’

Tiger’s game plan a few weeks ago in the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was working  “I was right there,’’ he reminded. Until the sixth hole of the final round when he was right in one of those huge bunkers, took a triple-bogey 7 and was nowhere.

Now he’s at Kiawah, a course he says he often likes.

“I’m pleased the way I was able to play at certain parts,’’ he said of the U.S. and British Opens, “and obviously disappointed I did not win. Things have progressed, but still not winning a major championship doesn’t feel very good.’’

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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