'What else can go wrong?'

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- The crowds are being respectful and encouraging to Tiger Woods this week at the PGA Championship.

The most popular player in the game gets that benefit of the doubt.

But there's also a touch of amazement and -- dare we say it? -- pity when the fans holler "Hang in there, Tiger" or "Keep your head up" or, with all due respect to the Brooklyn Dodgers, "There's always next hole."

That's the problem for Woods this week. There's another hole to play. Through 54 at Oak Hill CC, he has made only four birdies, compared with 13 bogeys. He has hit just 18 of 42 fairways and just 42 percent of his greens in regulation.

He's 9 over par, possibly headed for his worst finish ever in a major championship (he has never finished lower than 29th).

For the first time in five years, unless he stages a miraculous comeback and the field falls apart, he will be majorless in a calendar year. And for a 27-year-old who defines himself by the majors he wins -- and he has eight of 'em in his trophy case -- that's more than just a little disappointing.

Woods tied for 15th at The Masters, tied for 20th at the U.S. Open and tied for fourth at the British Open earlier this year.

Saturday, paired with U.S. Open champ Jim Furyk, Woods was mortal -- at best. He hit just one of his first eight fairways and made four front-side bogeys.

Woods likes to say he's "grinding" when he's playing steady golf. But he really is grinding this week -- and not in a good sense. His body language is that of a man who's exhausted and annoyed. His language is, at times, PG-13.

"I played my tail off to shoot 3 over today," he said. "I really did. I grinded my butt off."

He and caddie Steve Williams interacted little, at least when Woods was struggling, on Saturday. Woods spent most of his time walking alone in the fairway, bound for the tall grass and looking befuddled.

One stretch for thought: On the seventh hole, he hit into the left rough off the tee and couldn't get to the green in two, making bogey. He missed the fairway at the eighth and saved par with a 10-foot putt. He finally hit his first fairway at the ninth, but left his short-iron approach shot short and watched as the ball trickled down the hill, ending up 20 yards in front of the green. He made another bogey.

He shot 39 on the front nine, and only back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th salvaged his round. In fact, the 16th hole was the first time Woods had the honor on the tee all day.

"I kind of apologized to Jim for taking (it)," Woods said.

He bogeyed the 18th hole, then walked off to sign his scorecard with a mixture of anger and bemusement. He said over and over that his game is just a touch off, but admitted that he's at a loss on how to fix it.

Even the golf gods, he said, are frowning on him.

"Shots you hit well are just not working out, and shots you hit poorly, you are not getting any breaks," he said.

"It's tough," he said later. "It wears on your patience, and I've been as patient as possible. I've really grinded. I've fought, every, every inch of the way. If I would have bagged it in, I could have shot a million. But that's not the way I play."

Instead, he insists on grinning and bearing it -- for the most part.

"It's just one thing after another, and you start laughing at it," he said. "What else can go wrong?"

As Woods finished meeting with the media -- the first time he has done so since the tournament began -- Williams stood with his bag at the back door of his Buick Rendezvous (conspicuous in a sea of courtesy Cadillacs). Despite his troubles, Woods hasn't stopped to work on his game at the driving range all week.

"You go out there and over par just might win this tournament still," Woods said. "You never know. You can shoot a great round. Johnny Miller did it at Oakmont (a final-round 63 in the U.S. Open 30 years ago).

"If I can get it going, you never know. It's going to take one of those great rounds of golf. I've shot low rounds before."

This week, he hasn't.

David Kraft is an ESPN.com senior editor and can be reached at David.S.Kraft@espn3.com.