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Hunter Mahan is encouraged by the fact that first-timers have won each of the first three majors this year. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR/WireImage)
Hunter Mahan is encouraged by the fact that first-timers have won each of the first three majors this year. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR/WireImage)

'Glory's Last Shot' offers some hope, some desperation

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The tension at the PGA Championship is more intense than at any other major because everyone knows time is running out on their quest to win one of golf's great prizes. Based on how the season has gone, the winner could be just about anyone.

TULSA, Okla. (AP) -- The PGA Championship is known as "Glory's Last Shot" for obvious reasons, although the slogan can carry multiple messages.

It smacks of desperation for the likes of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, who go into the final major of the year realizing time has nearly run out on their quest to add to their collection of majors.

"You never want to be shut out," Woods said. "You never want to have a year where you don't win a major championship."

And it brings hope to those trying to capture their first major, especially when they realize this year's Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship all went to players who won a major for the first time.

"You realize, 'I'm also here to win,'" Hunter Mahan said. "I'm here because I can win. And I'm stepping on that tee with a purpose to do that. I'm not here to finish second to Tiger Woods."

The last major of the year will be up for grabs starting Thursday at Southern Hills Country Club. It will be hosting its seventh major, the most recent a U.S. Open in 2001.

Based on how the season has gone, the winner could be just about anyone.

Who could have envisioned Zach Johnson in a green jacket? Even with Woods' name atop the leaderboard briefly in the final round at the Masters, Johnson never flinched on the back nine at Augusta National and hung on for a two-shot victory.

"You look at Phil, Tiger and the guys that have won that thing," Stewart Cink said. "So when a guy that's lesser known wins the Masters ... I play practice rounds with Zach all the time. Why can't I do it?"

Of the six players who had a share of the lead Sunday at Oakmont, not many figured Angel Cabrera of Argentina would win the U.S. Open Trophy by holding off Woods and Jim Furyk.

"I think it opened my eyes and told me that I could do this, also," said Andres Romero, a 26-year-old Argentine.

Padraig Harrington of Ireland ended an eight-year dry spell for Europe in the majors by winning the Open Championship, and he figured a list of Europeans would be inspired to follow him.

No matter what continent or pedigree, there is no shortage of candidates. Six of the top 15 players in the world ranking have yet to win a major, and most of them have reason to believe tree-lined Southern Hills could be right up their alley.

Since the Masters began in 1934, there have been only three seasons when the majors were swept by newcomers. The most recent was four years ago with Mike Weir (Masters), Jim Furyk (U.S. Open), Ben Curtis (Open Championship) and Shaun Micheel (PGA Championship).

The other two years were 1969 and 1959.

"It gives everybody a little hope," Chad Campbell said. "It reminds you that it is possible for people who haven't won one, that people besides Tiger and Phil can win."

After winning the final two majors of 2006, there was talk that Woods might pull off another "Tiger Slam" by holding all four trophies at the same time, and he wasn't far away. He made too many mistakes at Augusta National. He made only one birdie over the final 32 holes at Oakmont and had to settle for second. Then at Carnoustie he tied for 12th.

"I just didn't hit the ball close enough to make enough birdies," Woods said. "My birdie output wasn't what it normally is. If you don't make a lot of birdies, you can't win a major championship, period. And I can't do that."

This is only the fourth time in his 11 years as a pro that Woods has come to the PGA Championship without having already won a major. He won at Medinah in 1999, but the other three years (1998, 2003, 2004) ended without a major, and the past two times it was a struggle simply to make the cut at the PGA Championship.

He doesn't have the best memories at Southern Hills.

Going for his fifth straight major in the 2001 U.S. Open, he didn't break par until the weekend and wound up seven shots behind. His only other trip to Tulsa was for the 1996 Tour Championship, a week when "I wasn't really there" because his father was hospitalized. Woods tied for 21st in a 30-man field.

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Mickelson's summer has been one to forget. A wrist injury slowed his progress after winning THE PLAYERS Championship, then he missed the cut in the U.S. Open and Open Championship.

But he has reason to be optimistic heading to Southern Hills, a course where he tends to play well in the majors. He finished third at the 1994 PGA Championship and was in the hunt at the 2001 U.S. Open until closing with a 75 to tie for seventh.

A victory would be his fourth straight year with a major, something only four other players have done (Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Walter Hagen).

"If you win the PGA, you have seven months before the next major and you get to dwell on that, which is cool," Mickelson said. "I don't know. I just think it's a great way to end the year."

Els has never gone more than five years without winning a major, but is quickly fading from his role as a regular contender and Southern Hills has never been his favorite. Retief Goosen has a chance to become the first player to win a U.S. Open and PGA Championship on the same course.

Colin Montgomerie once said majors were tougher than ever to win because Woods tends to take two, either Mickelson, Els or Vijay Singh wins another and that leaves only one for everybody else.

"I don't really think that I have my one shot a year at winning a major," said Cink. "Looking back on one of my best friends out here, Zach winning the Masters, you always feel like those tournaments are untouchable, rare for players that have never won them.

"It gives me the belief," he added. "And less fear, probably."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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