Golf

Tiger misses plenty of opportunities

Image: Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood (Matthew Lewis, Getty Images)
Tiger Woods will be chasing Lee Westwood in Sunday's final round at the British Open.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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GULLANE, Scotland

He’s not the same Tiger.

That much was clear after a dramatic Saturday at Muirfield when Tiger Woods took the lead at the 142nd Open championship, but instead of doing what he used to and stepping on throats, he stepped on his own shoelaces.

It’s certainly far from over for Woods, but he’ll now need to beat not just Lee Westwood and, among others, Adam Scott and Hunter Mahan, but also history to win the 15th major that has eluded him since 2008.

Woods has never come from behind to win one of golf’s four glittering prizes, but now has no choice.

He’ll start the final round two shots behind Westwood, the local hope at Muirfield who’s bidding to extend what they’ve started calling the Summer of Sport in Britain.

The Brits, still glowing from the 2012 London Olympics, already have won Wimbledon, are obliterating their old rivals Australia in cricket’s Ashes — after beating the Aussies in the rugby — and are likely to win the Tour de France, too.

And then there’s Justin Rose, who last month became the first Englishman in 43 years to win the U.S. Open.

“I hope so,” said Westwood about becoming the first English winner of an Open since Nick Faldo 23 years ago.

Second-round leader Miguel Angel Jimenez fell from contention after a miserable day that included bogeys on four of his first eight holes. He finished with a 77 and a 216 total — six shots off the lead heading into Sunday.

The day looked like it would unfold brilliantly for Woods — who burns to win the major that will definitively put the scandal behind him — when he rolled in a 30-footer on the second hole to take the lead by himself.

It was 3:33 p.m. local time; heads around here nodded knowingly.

Those who remember the killer Woods used to be on weekends at majors thought they knew how the story would go.

But they were remembering an old script.

After the rewrite of 2009, the hero’s more human, fallible and not so sure of himself.

On cue, Woods made a soft bogey at the par-three fourth, and 10 minutes after securing it, his lead was gone.

On the next, the par five, he lobbed nicely over a bunker to set up a five-footer for birdie, but when Westwood rolled in an improbable eagle putt from off the green, it seemed to fluster Woods.

He missed the putt that would’ve tied him with Westwood, and then dropped another shot at the seventh after blowing his tee shot well over the green and leaving his chip woefully short.

When Westwood made birdie at the exacting par three to Woods’ bogey, the Englishman’s lead grew to three shots.

Westwood dropped shots at the next two holes, however, and Woods made a birdie at the par-five ninth to tie for the lead.

Woods had his chances to take the lead on the back nine — he’s second in fairways hit and ninth in greens in regulation — but the putter wouldn’t cooperate.

The momentum changed dramatically, however, on the par 3 16th.

There are no easy holes at Muirfield but this one’s especially torturous.

“It's going to punish a shot that's not executed perfectly,” said Adam Scott.

“And that pin spot is probably the toughest on the course today. It's just sitting perched right on top of a little rise.”

Little wonder, then, that the hole yielded just one birdie — claim your skin, Hideki Katayama — against 27 bogeys and seven dreaded “others.”

Woods hit a beautiful iron there to about 15 feet. Westwood, meanwhile, made his ugliest swing of the day, finishing in the hay left of the green.

“It found the worst lie I've found all week,” said Westwood. “There's so many bad things that could have happened from there.”

Namely, a double bogey after he failed to hit the green with his first hack.

But Westwood canned a 20-footer for bogey and — again — Woods missed his chance.

Then, on the next, the par five, Woods retreated to his conservative strategy and instead of hitting driver, took a fairway wood on a hole playing into the teeth of a strong wind. He left himself 240 yards just to carry the cross bunkers and didn’t, leading to a bogey.

Westwood, meanwhile, made another 20-footer, this time for birdie to get to three under par.

On the last, when Woods had a chance to force his way into the final group with Westwood — just as he was when he won his last major, the 2008 US Open — he left his birdie try short.

Now he’ll have to deal with trying to beat history with his old caddie, Steve Williams, along with him as Woods plays in the penultimate group with Scott.

Still, Woods — as is his wont — kept a positive spin on the day.

“I felt like I played well today, I really did,” he said.

“I had a couple opportunities to make a couple of putts, I just didn't do it. Caught a couple of weird bounces out there, which is normal. And tomorrow [Sunday] hopefully I can play just a little bit better, and make a couple more putts.

“I've got 14 of these things, and I know what it takes to win it.”

Westwood, meanwhile, seems to have his own game plan.

“I figured if I was going to win this tournament, I was going to have to beat Tiger,” he said.

“It generally works like that, whatever tournament you're playing in that he's playing in.”

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Lee Westwood

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