Give him the lead going into the final round of the major, and victory is no longer as certain as death, taxes and Woods wearing a red shirt on Sunday. Watch him hit a clutch shot to the 18th green, and there is no guarantee hell make the putt.
Y.E. Yang delivered a shocker two weeks ago at the PGA Championship when he became the first player to beat golfs best closer, rallying from two shots behind Woods for a three-shot victory at Hazeltine.
Woods rarely looked so human. And then on Sunday at Liberty National, he bled a little more.
He was on the cusp of contention for most of the final round at The Barclays until the bell rang for the final lap. Then, Woods made a 10-foot birdie on the 14th to move closer to the lead, a 15-foot par putt on the next hole to stay there, and a deft chip-and-run to 3 feet for birdie on the 16th that pulled him within one shot.
Needing a birdie on the final hole to post the clubhouse lead ' at least force a playoff, maybe enough win ' he drilled a 6-iron from 189 yards to the back pin at the 18th and listened to those familiar roars as the ball settled 7 feet from the cup.
Heath Slocum and Steve Stricker, tied for the lead, were on the 18th tee as Woods stood over his birdie putt. Even from 467 yards away, it was not difficult to figure out what was going on. If the cheers werent enough, that red shirt is hard to miss.
Usually he makes it, Slocum said. Ho-hum for him.
The ball slid by on the left side of the cup, and they could hear the groans ' twice. Because the large video boards and TVs in corporate chalets had about a 10-second delay, the big news reached some people later than others.
Its kind of funny, actually, Slocum said, referring to the double dose of reaction. But I knew that he had missed it.
That wasnt the case for Slocum. Despite hitting a fairway bunker, playing short of the green and hitting a wedge to 20 feet, he rolled in the best par putt of his life for a one-shot victory. Stricker had a chance to tie, but missed from 10 feet.
I guess you cant make em all, Slocum said.
Yang was the first to see for himself when he took down the biggest name in golf.
Slocum beat a bunch of stars. The group one shot behind featured Woods, Stricker, Ernie Els and Padraig Harrington, who have combined to win 20 majors. All of them have been at least No. 3 in the world at some point.
The common thread in both tournaments was Woods having a chance to win, and Woods finishing second.
Thats the way it goes sometimes, he said.
Along with his 81 victories worldwide, he has finished second 32 times in tournaments recognized by the world golf rankings.
Even so, this was only the fifth time in his career that Woods has finished runner-up in consecutive tournaments. The last time it happened was at the end of his 2006 season, when he was second to Yang at the HSBC Champions in Shanghai, then surrendered a lead on the back nine to Harrington and lost to him in a playoff at the Dunlop Phoenix in Japan.
Go back to 2005 to find the last time it happened in America. Woods was runner-up to Michael Campbell in the U.S. Open, then tied for second at the Western Open in Chicago.
Unlike the other four occasions, Woods had a realistic chance of winning both times as he stood on the 18th tee.
And the reason failure stands out so much is that it rarely happened before.
No other greens confounded Woods quite like the ones at Liberty National. It was only fitting that he missed a 7-foot putt at the end because he had done that all week. On his first hole of the tournament, Woods hit a pure 5-iron to 10 feet behind the hole at No. 10 and looked perplexed when it broke away from the cup.
Even as he tried to make a move Saturday, his 67 was slowed by missing an 8-foot eagle putt at No. 6 that stunned even one his playing partners, Zach Johnson. He missed from 5 feet later in the third round on No. 15 and was spewing expletives all the way to the next tee.
It happens, Woods said Sunday. Not too many golf courses that you misread putts that badly. This golf course is one.
Another course he mentioned was Fancourt in South Africa for the Presidents Cup in 2003. But thats where Woods made a putt he called one of the most nerve-racking of his career. He was on the third playoff hole against Els, in near darkness, facing a 15-foot par putt that broke both ways, right up the ridge, then left as it moved down toward the hole.
The most famous putt was his 6-foot birdie on the 72nd hole of the 2000 PGA Championship which he made to force a playoff that he won against Bob May on his way to four consecutive majors.
This year, Woods won his first PGA Tour event since returning from reconstructive knee surgery by making a 15-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Bay Hill. It was the same green where he made a 25-foot birdie putt a year earlier to win by one shot, where he made a 15-footer to beat Phil Mickelson in 2001.
The list is long.
It will take more than two tournaments to put a dent in Woods mystique.
Besides, his loss is golfs gain, for it now puts some doubt into the outcome ' if not in Woods head, then the people watching, and even those trying to beat him.