Tiger suffers major Saturday meltdown
It’s been 48 years since United States Opens finished on Saturdays.
But Tiger Woods finished his Open on Saturday.
With the eyes of the sporting world upon him, with the debate on whether he’s finally back poised to swing in his favor, Woods handed Sunday back to LeBron James and Kevin Durant, as much as to Jim Furyk and Graeme McDowell.
Woods suffered a premature death by six bogeys at the Olympic Club — against a single birdie — all but shooting himself out of a major he seemed ready to win.
For the first time in his career, Woods went backward in a third round at a major after holding a share of the midway lead.
He’s no longer the bulletproof front-runner he once was, and now will have to come from behind — five shots behind co-leaders Furyk and McDowell — for the first time if he’s to win a 15th major.
His 5-over-par round of 75 was the worst score he’s ever shot in his career after holding at least a share of the second-round lead.
And, really, in many ways it was even uglier than that because it was — on the whole — so unnecessary.
Woods prides himself on having a nuanced, sharp golf brain and being a great tactician on the course.
Yet he played Olympic Club on Saturday as the fire-breathing dragon it had been on Friday, oblivious to the fact that the course had been watered, somewhat softened as perhaps the last benevolent act from executive director Mike Davis and the United States Golf Association.
Lee Westwood figured it out, shooting 67 to put himself right back into the thick of the race for that elusive first major.
Ernie Els got it, turning in a fine 68 to — like Westwood — start Sunday only three off the lead.
Indeed, 13 players figured it out on Saturday, finishing in red numbers, as many rounds in the 60s that had been turned in during the first two rounds combined.
Woods, though, was hitting approaches well short of the greens, or on the front of the putting surfaces, and seemed shocked when his ball didn’t run to the pin, as it had done on Thursday and Friday.
He was even worse with a putter in his hand; one of the greatest clutch putters in history took a preposterous 34 strokes.
"They looked quick, but they putted slow," he bemoaned of the greens later.
"It was a tough, tough feel for me to adjust to."
But isn’t that what the great Tiger Woods did for all those years? He certainly didn’t win 14 majors by not adjusting.
And then there was his course management.
Even at 3 over par for the day after 15 holes, Woods still had two par 5’s and a short par 4 closing hole left to play.
At the artificially long 16th — where Woods had pounded perfect draws in the first two rounds — he reverted back to the bad old ways, blocking his tee shot into the right trees.
But even though he had 240 yards left in for his third shot, there was one place he couldn’t par from: right where he hit his ball.
"I had to miss it left," he said. "You put it in the left gallery and you’ve got a shot. When it put it where I put it (right bunker), you just don’t have a shot."
He made the inevitable bogey, then compounded the error by finding the front bunker on the 17th — the easiest hole on the course — with just a mid-iron in his hand. He had to settle for par on a birdie hole.
But the final indignity for Woods came on the last, where he missed the green with a short iron, then completely flubbed a chip.
Of course, he didn’t make the long par putt. It was an absurdly sloppy bogey.
Woods once was like a scavenger when it came to saving pars at majors; on Saturday he threw shots away like confetti at a wedding.
"I think he’s probably disappointed with the 18th hole," said Furyk, who played with Woods and beat him by five.
"Sixteen, 17, 18 … with the finish. Being 3 over par, if he gets it in with a birdie or so on the way in, he’s only two shots back. To make two bogeys and now be five back is probably disappointing."
Furyk’s known Woods for many years and the two are friends. But he knows what he saw.
"I felt like he probably, from where he hit the ball, I felt like he could have got a lot more out of the round," Furyk said.
"He didn’t get a lot of momentum with the putter and make a lot of putts out there, and that made it difficult to get things going. I don’t think he looked that far off.
"It’s just stuff happens at U.S. Opens sometimes."
And while that’s true, it’s also true that that kind of "stuff" used to happen to everyone else, not Tiger Woods.