Is Tiger Out Of The Woods?

Tiger Woods closed with rounds of 75-73 at The Olym­pic Club on the weekend, one stroke short of his worst weekend at a US Open.

Only 12 of the 72 players who made the cut at Olympic had a higher score than Woods. So what went wrong? How did the former world number one go from being within a sniff of collecting his 15th major to a tie for 21st in just two rounds?

Tiger Woods Better Days: Tiger celebrates winning the 2006 US PGA Championship, the second major title of that year following his British Open victory at Royal Liverpool (Credit: Anthony Powter)

Woods attributed his 75 in the third round to being fooled by the speed of the greens and to being caught between clubs on so many of his shots into the greens.

Five shots behind going into Sunday’s final round, Woods said he simply didn’t play well on the opening six holes. He played them in 6-over par, and when he finally made his first birdie, he already was 11 shots behind and from his mannerisms, he knew he’d dashed another chance at a major.

Between 1999 and 2008, Woods won 13 of the 36 majors. His amazing record in that decade was a reflection of his utter dominance of the game.

But Tiger’s results in majors over the past couple of years, due partly to leg injuries that kept him out of four majors since his last win at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, has caused many pundits to question whether he his game will return to the grandeur that he once enjoyed.

It was 2008 and everyone was getting into the act at the majors.

From young gun Rory McIlroy to tour-journeyman Darren Clarke and the 58-year old Tom Watson coming close in Turnberry at The Open in 2009.

Even our own Greg Norman – despite not having played a major for three years – had a go at The Open in 2008 at Royal Birkdale, being the 54-hole leader by two strokes going into the weekend before eventually finishing a creditable third place.

There were Americans, Europeans, South Africans, a Korean and an Argentinian claiming a place on the major mantelpiece. Twelve were first-time winners and 12 came from outside the top-10 in the world at the time.

This year, Tiger won by five shots at Bay Hill and then did not feature at the Masters. He rallied from four shots behind to win the Memorial only to falter on the weekend of the US Open.

The desire to win another major – Woods has been stuck on number 14 for four years now – is greater than ever. Maybe too great.

With each major that he doesn’t win, the chances that he’ll catch Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 titles diminishes. This US Open seemed to be in his grasp until a free fall weekend that was contrary to everything that made him dominant.

Coupled with this is the younger twenty-somethings that are no longer in fear of Woods and believe they can win.

It used to be a given that once Woods seized the lead in a major, he wouldn’t let it go. Times have changed and the sport is certainly more competitive and players don’t fear Woods like many have in the past, yet Woods by his nature, loves to compete and he certainly knows how to win.

If everything had gone according to plan, Woods should have sixteen major titles by now. Yet nothing according to plan anymore in the golf world and in Woods’ case events of the past have created baggage that is clearly affecting his ability to close the big tournaments under pressure.

At the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine, Y.E. Yang stirred up the crowd, stared Woods down and cracked his air of invincibility. Then we had the events of the weekend at this year’s US Open at Olympic.

They are the only two times Woods has failed to close the deal the 10 times he has held a lead at the halfway point of a major.

Woods has been world number one player for the most consecutive weeks and for the greatest total number of weeks of any golfer past and present.

He has been awarded PGA Player of the Year a record ten times, the Byron Nelson Award for lowest adjusted scoring average a record eight times, and has the record of leading the money list in nine different seasons.

Woods has 14 professional major golf championships, the second highest of any player (Jack Nicklaus leads with 18), and 73 PGA Tour events, tied for 2nd all time with Nicklaus behind Sam Snead. He has more career major wins and career PGA Tour wins than any other current professional does.

There are still a couple of great players who struggle to close out a major, but Woods is not one of them.

True to form, Woods’ was quick to note his issues at the post-round US Open press conference on Sunday but he already has his eyes set on another prize – the 2012 British Open.

“I have finished close in major championships before, so I had a chance this week and I’ll get after it in another at The Open.”

With three wins (tied with Jack Nicklaus) and another four top tens at the world’s oldest major, I’d say Woods’ chances are looking pretty good come mid-July at Royal Lytham & St Annes.