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Woods sets sights on another Major record

Tiger Woods might no longer have the Grand Slam to go for, but he still has the chance this week to do something never done before.

The United States PGA championship in Minnesota gives Woods the opportunity to become the first player ever to win three majors in a season twice.

Ben Hogan’s 1953 hat-trick of Masters, US Open and Open titles stood as a unique achievement until the current world number one arrived on the scene.

Two years ago the man who has changed the face of golf lifted the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 shots (a major record), the Open at St Andrews by eight (with a 19-under-par total that is another major record) and the US PGA after a play-off with Bob May.

Woods kicked off this season by taking the Masters and US Open, both by three strokes, but the Scottish weather – or rather his failure to cope with it as well as Ernie Els did – ended the Grand Slam dream. For this year at least.

Hazeltine National is where Tony Jacklin won the US Open in 1970, but at over 7,300 yards it is a place Woods should find suiting him much more than the much shorter, much trickier Muirfield.

The 26-year-old’s third-round 81 there – his worst-ever score as a professional remember – already appears to have been removed from his memory bank.

Just 24 hours later Woods fired a 65, still only good enough for 28th place, and his victory in the Buick Open on Sunday, helped by a second-round 63 which was his lowest round of the year, sets the scene perfectly for his head-to-head on Thursday and Friday with new Open champion Els.

Even with Woods not a factor, the South African was stretched to the limit before he got the better of Thomas Levet at the fifth hole of a play-off which began with Australians Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington involved as well.

Els, with three wins, four second places and 17 top-10 finishes in majors to his name now, is the obvious biggest threat to Woods’ long-term target – namely overtaking Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 major titles.

Woods currently stands on eight, including two of the last three PGA championships, and even Els was prepared to say after winning in Scotland that he looked on Woods as the only player capable of a Grand Slam.

His own goal is to hold each of the four major trophies at least once in his career and for that Els needs the PGA and Masters.

If he does that by next April the 32-year-old from Johannesburg will be the man holding centre-stage. But Woods remains golf’s leading light.

He also goes into the tournament in fine form after his win at the Buick Open last weekend.

The victory was Woods’ first in an event preceding a major and in the last 33 years, only two players have won a major the week after claiming another PGA Tour event.

“It’s a weird phenomenon,” said Woods. “I’ve won tournaments in the past back-to-back. I’ve won two tournaments in a row, and hopefully I can do it here.”

Woods’ next appearance in Britain, of course, will be for the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in six weeks’ time.

All 12 of Europe’s side compete at Hazeltine – plus 11 others including Justin Rose, Paul Caseyand Greg Owen, all of whom are appearing in their first-ever major in America.

It will be fascinating to see how they cope, especially 22-year-old Rose, four times a winner this season and far from fazed when he was paired with Woods in the first two rounds of the Open.

Twice English amateur champion Casey was an American college star before turning professional two years ago, while it is a totally new excursion for the 30-year-old Owen, who has been in the paid ranks for a decade now, but took half that time just to make it onto the European Tour and has really only blossomed in the last two seasons.

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