Tiger Woods fades again, faces 12-stroke deficit heading to final round of British OpenBy Paul Newberry, AP
Saturday, July 17, 2010
Woods faces 12-shot deficit heading to Open finale
ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods was clearly enjoying himself between shots, yukking it up with good buddy Darren Clarke as they played 18 holes at the birthplace of golf.
Not a bad way to spend a sunny afternoon.
But the number on the card needed to be lower.
A lot lower.
All Woods could manage Saturday at the British Open was a second straight 73, despite having four putts for eagle on the Old Course. None of them would drop, and the distance between the world’s No. 1 player and the only spot he really cares about grew from eight shots at the beginning of the third round to a daunting dozen by the time it was done.
Woods will be a mere sidelight on the final day, no matter how many times someone yells, “You da man!” Even at a tournament that can change drastically, given in the fluky elements of the Scottish seaside, no one has ever come back to win from more than 10 shots down heading to the fourth round.
The man of the moment is an unheralded South African, Louis Oosthuizen, who will take the lead into the final round of a major for the first time in his life. At least he knows he won’t have to worry about Woods bearing down on him in the rearview mirror.
While Woods was on the fringe of contention at his first two majors post-scandal, he hasn’t been much of a factor at St. Andrews since opening with a 5-under 67 in pristine conditions Thursday.
“I hit it good,” Woods said. “I striped it all day. I just didn’t get anything out of the round. I couldn’t build any momentum. I wasn’t making any putts.”
It was easy to zero in on the root of his problems: Look no further than the flat stick.
Woods had a putter in his hand with eagle on the line at the ninth, 12th and 14th holes, the latter being the lone par-5 among them. Two birdies and a three-putt par was the best he could do.
He finished the round with another squandered opportunity, driving the green on the short par-4 for the second day in a row — then taking three more putts to get down for par on a hole where anything worse than birdie is a disappointment.
“I’m driving it beautifully and I’m not making any putts,” Woods said. “It’s just one of those things where you just have to be patient. I was grinding. I was as patient as I possibly could be, and I was just trying to plod my way along. I just didn’t get anything going.”
Woods whacked at it 35 times on Saturday — only five players put more miles on their putter. He’s taken 99 strokes on or around the massive greens over the first three rounds, which essentially accounts for the margin between him and the leader. Oosthuizen has used his putter 88 times, third-fewest in the field.
Woods broke out a new club for St. Andrews, hoping it would help him judge the slower speed of the greens. It hasn’t done much good, but he refused to blame his equipment.
“No, no. I just need to have better speed,” he said.
This performance will do nothing to quell the doubts about Woods being able to regain the dominating aura he possessed before his personal life made tabloid headlines.
He certainly hasn’t been the same player he was in 2000 and 2005, when he romped to dominating Open wins at the birthplace of golf, helping build a collection that has grown to 14 major titles, just four shy of Jack Nicklaus’ career record.
While wife Elin isn’t around for the third major in a row and Woods won’t discuss the state of his marriage, he has vowed to change his ways when he’s at the course, whether it’s cutting down on his temper-fueled outbursts or just being a more pleasant person.
He appears to be making headway, especially when paired with someone whose company he enjoys.
Sure, there were a few times when Woods muttered to himself about a poor shot, and he swung his club angrily after an errant approach at the second hole. But generally, there was plenty of banter, smiles, even a few laughs as he chatted with Clarke.
“We’re both focusing. We’re both playing. We’re both grinding, both trying to fight our way and get back in this tournament,” Woods said. “Granted, we’re great friends, but still, we’re competitors out there. We’re both trying to get ourselves back in the golf tournament so we can have a chance at winning it.”
That’s not likely to happen on Sunday. Paul Lawrie’s win at Carnoustie in 1999 was the greatest comeback in major-championship history, but it was only made possible by Jean Van de Velde’s historic meltdown on the 72nd hole.
Wood just keeps saying that he’s not that far off, just as he did after tying for fourth at the Masters and the U.S. Open.
“I’m playing well,” he said. “I’m playing better than, obviously, my position. I certainly have had a lot more putts on the greens than I ever have, and that’s something that has basically kept me out of being in the final few groups.”