- Associated Press - Thursday, August 11, 2011

JOHNS CREEK, GA. (AP) - The PGA Championship is under way at Atlanta Athletic Club, with one of the 20 club professionals in the field hitting the opening tee shots.

Several PGA professionals gathered around the first tee began clapping when Craig Stevens of Dallas hit the fairway on the first hole.

About that time, Tiger Woods was headed to the putting green to begin warming up for the final major of the year. Woods missed the past two majors while letting injuries in his left leg properly heal.

Minor damage from a mowing accident on the 17th green has been repaired, although the brown edges of the new sod are visible. It’s a tiny patch about 3 square yards, criss-crossed, looking like the runways of a small airport from 35,000 feet.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

JOHNS CREEK, Ga. (AP) _ On the eve of the PGA Championship, Dustin Johnson was surely holed up in some quiet corner, getting in a little extra reading.

Or, at the very least, he was giving a cursory glance to that sheet of paper explaining the local rules of Atlanta Athletic Club.

Well, that’s not D.J.

This is, after all, the guy who sells T-shirts on his website that say, “No Guts, No Glory.”

“I’ve never looked at one and probably never will,” Johnson said Wednesday, breaking into a defiant smile.

Not even after what happened last year?

“I know the rules,” Johnson shot back.

That may be true, but there’s that little matter of Whistling Straits. In one of the greatest mental blunders or _ depending on your point of view _ all-time rip jobs, Johnson lost the chance to win his first major championship at last year’s PGA Championship.

He had to take a two-shot penalty on the 72nd hole after grounding his club in a patch of dirt that only vaguely resembled a bunker.

Johnson still isn’t sure that’s what it was.

“It was only about this big around,” he said, holding out his arms in the shape of a small circle. “There was grass and beer cans and cups in there. It had no definition at all.”

Good enough, though, under local rules. And Johnson, knowing the rules, dutifully erased the number on his card and wrote in one that was two strokes higher. Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson went on to a playoff that should’ve included Johnson, too.

Kaymer went on to capture his first major title, so he’ll be the defending champion when play begins Thursday.

Johnson is still chasing his first big win, but he’s never really griped about the cards he was dealt.

Heck, he still blames himself for driving the ball so far right that he wound up in a bunker that didn’t look like one. He had a one-stroke lead, his first major title just a par away. He should’ve been more conservative off the tee, done what it took to stay in the fairway.

“I never should’ve hit it over there,” Johnson said. “I should’ve hit a 3-wood instead of the driver.”

In defeat, Johnson earned plenty of respect for the way he stoically handled the penalty.

“I don’t ever get too angry or too mad, especially when it was my fault,” Johnson said. “Still, the more times I look at it, the more I think it’s not even a bunker. But things happen. Rules are rules. I broke one, and I got a penalty.”

He’s reminded of his misfortune quite often. Often when he stops to sign autographs after a practice round _ as he did for a good 15 minutes Wednesday, working both sides of the ropes _ someone hands him a picture that captures what is, up to now, the defining moment of the 27-year-old’s career.

“It seems that all the pictures people want me to sign are like me hitting that shot,” Johnson said, chuckling. “I’m like, ‘Uhh, thank you.’”

Having been a Sunday contender in three of the past six majors, Johnson seems poised to break through, to create a new defining moment.

He started the final round of the 2010 U.S. Open with a three-shot lead, only to throw it away with an 82. After the disappointment of Whistling Straits, Johnson clawed his way back from a miserable start at this year’s British Open and was in the final group again.

Johnson was still right there until he knocked a shot out of bounds at the 14th hole, leading to a double-bogey that left him playing for second behind Darren Clarke.

“I just need to keep putting myself in the position to win, and it’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “I’ve had some good chances. I’ve played well in the final rounds the last two majors where I’ve been in contention. There’s one shot here or one shot there, and I’ve probably got a victory. I’ve just got to keep working on it, keep putting myself in position to win.”

One person who’s been in position to win plenty of times is Tiger Woods. But, coming off a three-month layoff to heal an injured leg and still battered by scandal in his personal life, the 14-time major champion is hardly the same player who used to be the automatic favorite anytime he showed up.

Woods had a ragged return last week at Firestone, finishing 18 strokes behind winner Adam Scott. Rubbing salt in the wound, Scott’s caddie was Steve Williams, who was recently fired by Woods after a long partnership.

Williams was giddy over Scott’s victory, calling it the greatest of his career _ even when taking into account the 13 majors titles he was part of while on Woods‘ bag. The caddie said he had remained loyal to Woods through all his problems, only to get dumped for no apparent reason.

Woods said he sent Williams “a nice text” congratulating him on the victory, and was surprised at the way he lashed out to the media. There are no regrets about the decision to fire his longtime caddie.

“Sometimes we all need changes,” Woods said. “I was at peace with it. It was a decision and a direction I wanted to go, and that’s it.”

While Woods has slipped to 30th in the world rankings and looked far too erratic at Firestone to have any real chance in the final major of the year, given Atlanta’s tight fairways, plentiful water and daunting length, his expectations haven’t changed a bit from the glory days.

“A ‘W,’” he said, nodding his head. “Do you want me to elaborate? A nice ‘W.’”

Johnson is setting his sights on a win, too.

And this time, he won’t have to worry about whether he’s hitting out of a bunker.

“Here, the bunkers are all defined,” Johnson said. “It’s not going to be an issue.”


Follow Paul Newberry at https://www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963

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