PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. ' Tiger Woods put on a show on the back nine Sunday at The Players Championship.
It just wasnt the show golf fans have come to expect when hes the closing act in the final pairing of a final round.
Woods was relegated to sideshow status.
During a long wait at the 16th tee, with his chances to win long gone, with the massive crowds having mostly abandoned him through that far corner on the back nine, Woods did golfs version of the soft shoe. He bounced his ball on the face of his 3-wood, making it hop and dance, then making it stop cold on the club face before making it dance again.
It wasnt quite as theatrical as the bouncing-ball act he did off his wedge in one of his Nike commercials a few years back, but the folks at the 16th tee whooped and hollered just the same.
It was the best control of his golf ball Woods showed on a tee box all week long.
No scene Sunday revealed more about Woods day.
At the gateway to one of golfs most brutal gauntlets, the trio of finishing holes at the TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course, Woods passed time in light-hearted banter with playing companion Alex Cejka and a marshal.
It was strange what you heard as Woods made his way into the gauntlet.
You actually heard folks consoling him.
Its all right, Tiger, one woman shouted.
At the tee box at the 17th island hole, though, you heard something else, the frustration of a fan who wanted more for his money.
Do something already, the fan exhorted.
That pretty much sums up the expectations Woods brings to final rounds like Sundays.
After showing off his magician skills all week, after performing one escape act after another, Woods can blame his wayward driving for Sundays failure.
Its hardly shocking that Woods failed to win The Players Championship. The course is becoming a nemesis. He has won just once in his 12 PGA Tour appearances here. Whats surprising is how he couldnt accept the gift that the 54-hole leader, Cejka, was offering. Cejka blew his five-shot lead over the first four holes.
Henrik Stenson stepped up to win with a bogey-free 66, while Woods shot 73. Stenson and Woods both started the day five shots back, but Stenson lapped Woods and everyone else with his four-shot victory.
Stenson won because the long-hitting Swede hit fairway after fairway, mostly using 3-woods. He hit every fairway he looked at the on the front nine. He missed just two fairways all weekend.
Woods lost because he consistently missed fairways even though he geared down, too, with mostly 3-woods.
Stenson hit twice as many fairways on the weekend (26 to 13) as Woods hit.
Its that simple.
I just kept hitting those spinners up to the right, Woods said. It was frustrating, because if I aim down the right side, Id spin it to the right, aim down the left side, spin it to the right.
Woods couldnt have picked a worse venue to play with suspect driving skill.
Still, if Woods doesnt get himself fixed on the tee box, speculations going to grow that hes becoming more vulnerable and beatable.
It may not be true, it may not be fair, but its a refrain you know is coming.
NBC-TV analyst Johnny Miller suggested as much in a national conference call earlier in the week. He said he walked three holes on Tuesday with Phil Mickelson and that Mickelson told him that it appears Woods has to putt great just to win by a single shot now. Miller said that Mickelson isnt alone thinking that way. Game on, is the way Miller described the thinking of Tour pros. When Woods isnt spectacular, hes slumping.
Thats the world he lives in.
Whats impressive, though, is how competitive he is when he isnt hitting on all cylinders. Whats impressive, too, is how he never allows himself to believe hes not close to fixing himself.
Some folks call that denial, others a strong will.
Ill fix it, Woods said. When youre playing a golf course like this, and you dont have it, and the greens are this fast and this hard, you can shoot some pretty high numbers.
If Woods doesnt fix himself off the tee, speculations also sure to rekindle over the future of his swing coach, Hank Haney.
Thats the world Haney lives in.
Asked if he needs special attention from Haney, Woods sounded confident in his coach: We know what it is. Its just a matter of me doing it. Playing the game is harder to do on the golf course. I just need to do a little better job of it.
If Woods is going to win the U.S. Open, hes got six weeks to fix himself. Bethpage Black awaits. Its a giant course that wont be tamed without a driver.
Ive got plenty of time, Woods said.
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