Woods hits a new low at 13 over – but don't write him off yet
Worst US Open performance does not mean he will never win another major
As the leaders were heading out to meet their fate, Tiger Woods was left to explain his worst performance at a US Open. The world No 1 has failed to break 70 at the weekend of his last 11 major championships. Yesterday's 74 took his score to 13 over par. For some, a pattern is developing.
The debate yesterday morning had already shifted from matching Jack Nicklaus's mark of 18 majors to whether he might ever add to the 14 he holds. After carving his tee shot at the second out of bounds on his way to running up an eight, the question drifted even further out to: "Will he ever win again?"
This is the price of being Tiger Woods and pretty much replicated the dialogue that swirled around his post-scandal low point in the early days of his association with coach Sean Foley. The missed cut at the 2011 PGA Championship, his third at a major as a pro, marked the end of history as far as Woods watchers were concerned. He was back in the ranks, no longer special, vulnerable to the same shortcomings as A N Other.
And lo, he popped a win at Bay Hill six months later, the first of three last year. And lo, that became three victories before the Masters this year, at which point the narrative embraced the idea that Jack's record might be swallowed up by August. Funny old game, eh?
A more balanced view, based on the evidence, might be that Woods is unlikely to be the dominant force he was at his mid-twenties peak. But that does not mean he cannot win another major.
Had his ball not struck the pin at the 15th and spun into Rae's Creek on mad Friday at the Masters, he would almost certainly have assumed the lead outright. The ensuing rules furore that engulfed him overnight cannot have helped his equilibrium. The erroneous drop cost him four strokes, if we allow that he would have holed for birdie, plus a heap of momentum. He fought back to finish fourth.
Thereafter he notched another win at the Players, a tournament that boasted a field as deep as any major without the quirks of a US Open set-up. That prompted the bookies almost to shut the book on his chances here. It did not, however, take into account the nature of a course that, set up as it is, arguably allows caprice too strong a say in outcomes.
Woods was principally undone here by his failure on the greens, a feature carried over from his previous event, the Memorial Tournament in Ohio, where high winds and super-fast putting surfaces knocked him completely out of kilter. It will not always be like that.
"I didn't play very well. My game was a bit off and I struggled with the pace of the greens all week," Woods said afterwards. "This place is tough, and the pin positions were really hard to get to, probably because they were worried about the greens being so soft."
Two bad weeks do not a career undermine. Unless your name is Tiger Woods, of course. No dustbin was rolled out for outgoing US Open champion Webb Simpson, who also signed for a 13-over total, or Masters champion, Adam Scott, who finished 15 over par. After his third-round 76 the camera panned to Woods' current belle, Lindsey Vonn.
Amazingly, given the need to release a minute-by-minute bulletin on the state of Woods' game, there was no attempt to link his nosedive with the blonde distraction provided by the poster girl of American alpine skiing.
They were back on message yesterday, beginning championship Sunday with a horror compilation of missed putts and fluffed chips against a soundtrack that went something like: "He would never have done that 10 years ago".
Perhaps we weren't looking hard enough. Remember the great World Cup-winning footballers of Brazil in 1970, the team of Pele, Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino and Jairzinho? There exists somewhere an out-takes programme of the cock-ups committed in Mexico 1970. The mythology tells us they were perfect, the truth was somewhat different. With the brilliance came that rather disappointing quality associated with being human; error. We forget sometimes that Woods is that.
Vital statistics: final day numbers
1 Shawn Stefani's hole in one was the first ever in a US Open at Merion
9 Previous top 10 US Open finishes for Phil Mickelson – without winning
1970 The last time an Englishman (Tony Jacklin) won the US Open title
Merion leader board
(US unless stated; par 70):
285 J Dufner 74 71 73 67
287 H Matsuyama (Japan) 71 75 74 67
291 M Goggin (Aus) 68 74 76 73, D Hearn (Can) 78 69 73 71,
M Laird (GB) 74 73 76 68, P Harrington (Irl) 73 71 75 72
292 M Weir (Can) 72 76 75 69, J Parry (Eng) 76 71 72 73, MKuchar 74 73 72 73, M Madsen (Den) 74 74 70 74
293 T Woods 73 70 76 74, K J Choi (S Kor) 70 76 75 72, J Donaldson (Wal) 73 73 73 74, G Ogilvy (Aus) 74 70 77 72, K Chappell 72 76 74 71, W Simpson 71 75 75 72
294 S Langley 75 70 75 74, C Pettersson (Swe) 72 75 74 73, J Kelly 70 73 75 76, R McIlroy (NIrl) 73 70 75 76
295 S Alker (NZ) 73 75 75 72; A Scott (Aus) 72 75 73 75, B Kim (S Kor) 72 75 73 75, S Garcia (Sp) 73 73 75 74; R Knox (GB) 69 75 77 74, C Pan (Chn) 72 72 75 76
296 S Stallings 71 76 76 73, M Bettencourt 72 71 76 77
297 D Johnson 71 77 75 74
298 G Coetzee (SA) 71 73 77 77, J Teater 74 74 74 76; N Thompson 72 76 74 76
299 S Stefani 72 73 85 69, M Siem (Ger) 73 71 77 78, M Kaymer (Ger) 76 72 77 74
300 K Phelan 71 77 78 74, M Weibring 75 73 76 76
301 M Weaver 74 74 78 75
302 D Howell (GB) 77 71 77 77, P Hedblom (Swe) 70 78 79 75
303 A Presnell (Aus) 73 75 76 79; J Peterson 73 75 78 77, K Sutherland 73 74 84 72, J Herman 76 72 76 79
305 R Karlsson (Swe) 74 72 86 73
306 S Khan (GB) 74 74 82 76
308 K Stanley 71 74 85 78
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