Tiger has only his game to blame for slide at British Open

July 22, 2013

He finished as something of an afterthought, tapping in for a final-round 74 to a polite smattering of applause as the winner of the British Open, Phil Mickelson, signed autographs and accepted congratulations.  

Tiger Woods never led on Sunday at Muirfield and never looked like a man ready to win his 15th major. From the first hole to the last he seemed out of sorts, lacking energy, drive and the intensity that marked the decade he dominated like no one else in the history of the game.  

Now, he looks like any other top tour pro, capable of winning but far from certain to do so. Woods needed to shoot 69 on Sunday to tie Mickelson and force a playoff. The Tiger of old would have done that or perhaps gone one or two better.

But this Tiger is not the same.  

Just look at the numbers. Since he last won a major at the 2008 US Open, he is 1-over par on the weekends in golf's biggest events, assuming he made the cut, which he didn't in the 2011 PGA Championship. This year, he is 10-over on the weekends in majors. His 74 on Sunday marked his highest final-round score in the Open Championship as a professional.  

It is a far cry from 11 years ago when Tiger showed up at Muirfield in search of the third leg of golf's elusive Grand Slam. That week, he was striking the ball well and his short game bordered on unbelievable. He shot 70 and 68 in the first two rounds to enter the weekend two shots behind Padraig Harrington and Ernie Els.

Everyone in attendance had Tiger pegged to win.  

But he caught a bad break on Saturday when cold rain and a 40-mph wind blew through in the middle of Tiger's round. Swinging a club was almost impossible and at least one spectator was blown off her feet when her umbrella became a parasail. The rain felt like darts as it blew in sideways.

Jeff Maggert, who also got caught in the worst of the weather, hit two consecutive drives as hard as he could and didn't make it to the fairways. "I had to aim for the walking paths, but that was impossible because the wind felt like a hurricane," Maggert said at the time.  

Tiger shot 81 that Saturday. The next day he closed with a 66 to finish tied for 28th. To his credit, he spoke to the media after every round and made no excuses for what happened. He caught a bad weather break that cost him a chance at history.   

This year there were no North Sea squalls or gale-force winds conspiring to keep Woods away from the Claret Jug. The sun shone and the temperatures remained unseasonably warm all week. Tiger had only his golf game to blame, a game that has looked remarkably unremarkable on major championship weekends the last couple of years.  

"It was frustrating," Woods said. "I played well. I could just never get the speed right today. We started on the first day, and (the greens) progressively got slower. That's usually the opposite of most tournaments. It usually gets faster as the week goes on, but this week was different. (Sunday) I had a couple of opportunities to make a couple of putts and I left them short."  

Mickelson, 43, had no trouble with the speed of the greens as he posted a 66, including four birdies in the final six holes to charge from behind to win his fifth major.

Woods has never won a major he didn't lead going into the final round. And while that streak could end, every passing major is a reminder of how impressive Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major wins is, and how difficult it is to win on golf's biggest stages.  

"I look forward to ... getting up there and playing Oak Hill," Woods said afterward, speaking of the Rochester, N.Y. course that is the site of the next major, the PGA Championship. "They've made a few changes (to the course). Made the golf course a little longer. I'd like to see it before the week starts."