The Postage Stamp had been like a tourist attraction this tournament, an short-yarded oddity to visit and enjoy on the way to the tough challenges of the back nine. Royal Troon's signature hole had been benign as the breeze. Then it reared up and trapped the Tiger.
Going into the par-three eighth yesterday, Woods was four under and still hopeful that the leaders ahead of him might be like a house of cards. When he left the shortest hole in championship golf something else had been belittled: his ambitions of winning his first Open as a professional. He had learned why postage stamps have serrated edges like a saw.
The hole yesterday was cut just three yards from the right of a slope severe enough to ski down and it took a brave man to go straight for the flag. Woods is no coward. He launched at it with a nine-iron and if his ball had pitched even six inches to the left a birdie would have been begging. Instead it hit a bank and plummeted with force into the bunker.
When he got to the scene of the crime Woods could scarcely believe what he saw. "What do I do?" his gesture asked, his ball half plugged and up against the sand wall. He came so very close to getting the answer.
The shot that faced him had to have elevation but also enough delicacy so that it did not race past the flag and leave a downhill putt. His first attempt was nearly perfect, the ball reaching the top of the slope, taking a look at the splendid view and then slowly turning round to return to the bunker.
When he did get out, Woods' vitality, the cocky walk of a natural athlete, had gone. Suddenly the weariness incurred by carrying huge expectation on his shoulders, was apparent. His first putt was too hard, his next lipped the hole and span away. He had taken a triple bogey six, turning the Postage Stamp into Troon's third hardest hole of the day almost single- handed.
At the 11th, the Railway hole that has derailed him all tournament, he went from gorse to worse and at the 12th he missed from two feet to incur a birdie. "I honestly still think I can win this," he had said after his course record-equalling third round of 64; the exodus of supporters deserting him to find the new Open champion said they honestly did not believe him.
Which could not have been in greater contrast to his start. Woods wears red on the last day of tournaments, his "power colour" according to his mother, a flag of challenge to the field. The intent was scarlet clear.
The crowd with him was huge, squeezing between the first green and the second tee like massed ranks of spectators leaving a football match. The stewarding problems were enormous; one shot from Woods and a thousand feet began moving. Jim Furyk, the playing partner, will have heard "Stand still, please" in his dreams last night.
Woods was refusing to heed the warnings. At the par-five fourth he began to move with a birdie, at the next he rolled in a 20-footer to go five- under. The leaders were coming in view, and, yes, they could hear the loud thunder of his charge.
At the sixth, however, the first signs of frailty reared from between the massive banks of support. Woods has been knocking in eight-footers as if they are gimmes all week but as soon as his club made contact he was dismayed, chasing after it as if he wanted another go. He raised his putter to beat the ball like he had seen a snake.
At the next another chance went by. "If I'd putted six and seven I'd have been seven under and I might have got going," he said. "I knew I couldn't win after the eighth, I was too far back.''
The journey home was a long one, the Tiger of the morning returning as a pussy cat. The last hole was tortuous, Woods zig-zagging up the fairway , dropping another stroke when a long putt went by. As he left he was shaking his head in utter disappointment. He had come hunting for another 64 as a matching pair to his third round but had returned a score 10 shots worse.
His mind wandered back to the mistakes that had cost him: the 11th on the first day, the 10th on the second and, of course, the eighth yesterday. Ten strokes had been lost at those holes, 10 strokes that would have had him chewing at Justin Leonard's heels.
"I had three bad holes this week," he said, "and you can't afford to do that in a major." It is a lesson learned and one he will put to good use soon. The year of the Tiger will come.Reuse content