Tiger's tail placed firmly between legs

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The Independent Online

While Lee Westwood was landing in Britain yesterday nursing the calf injury which forced him to pull out of this week's USPGA Championship, Tiger Woods was still suffering his own agonies in Akron at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

The world No 1 posted a 75 to fall to 11-over and stand 78th in the 80-man field. It was yet another humiliating experience on the course that Woods once bestrode like no other. Everybody thought Thursday's 74 was bad; yesterday's embarrassment was the highest score in 43 rounds and 11 years of playing at Firestone.

A fine gauge of his wretched form was provided by his early-morning starting time. After going out at 7.55am, he tapped in for a bogey on the 18th more than two and a half hours before the leaders teed off. For a seven-time champion of this event that was a belittling scenario indeed.

At least he did not have to suffer the ignominy of then having to watch Phil Mickelson make his downfall to No 2 a formality. With Woods now almost certain to finish outside the top 37, all the 40-year-old must do today to end his nemesis's five-year reign as No 1 is finish in the top four. But, after beginning just one off the pace, a sloppy 71 left Mickelson on five-under, four behind his countrymen Sean O'Hair and Ryan Palmer in a tie for 10th. Surely the left-hander can't waste this golden opportunity after 14 years as a pro aiming for that top spot?

If only Westwood had not suffered that calf problem five weeks ago. The Englishman had his own chance to usurp Woods but saw his attempt foiled by his ruptured plantaris muscle. After a 76 on Friday, Westwood was persuaded to withdraw from both Akron and the USPGA. It was a bitter blow for the 37-year-old, who has four top threes to his name from the previous five majors and two runner-up placings from the last three majors.

Westwood, however, was finally obliged to listen to reason. "I need to sit on my backside for six weeks, like they keep telling me," he said. "It's the only way to improve it. But I will be out for as long as it takes to get better. I am just hoping it will be in time for me to play in the Ryder Cup."

The Celtic Manor dust-up takes place in eight weeks' time, so Westwood is plainly not a definite. With four rookies currently in the nine automatic positions, his experience would obviously be a huge loss. The question marks surrounding his lead player mean Colin Montgomerie will give the merits of Bernhard Langer serious consideration when he comes to selecting his dozen at the end of the month. Not that the 52-year-old hadn't already entered his considerations.

"It wouldn't be so much of a shock, to be honest," said Montgomerie when asked about the chances of a captain's pick for the German. "To win the British Seniors Open at Carnoustie the other week was no mean feat, but then to travel eight time zones the very next week and beat the local favourite Freddie Couples in that last round [of the US Seniors Open] in Sahalee was remarkable."

Langer was the winning captain in 2004, but the last time he played was eight years ago. Senior events do not count in the qualifying charts, but he is still available as a wild card. He would equal Nick Faldo's appearance record (11) and, at 53, would become the Cup's oldest competitor by two years. Montgomerie would evidently view this as a plus, not a minus.

"Bernhard said after Sahalee that he used everything he'd learned in the Ryder Cup to overcome a very vocal home support and I think it wouldn't be such a dramatic pick to have someone of that age and experience in the team," he said. "He says he's playing as well as he ever has. And I know through playing with Bernhard Langer that he's as good a partner as anyone could ever have."