Woods experiences what his opponents used to feel
- By Ryan Lavner
- Sep 3, 2012 8:45 PM ET
NORTON, Mass. – Smacking him right in the face, as if with an electronic sledgehammer, was the leaderboard near the 15th green at TPC Boston. At that moment, as he stared at the big board, really studying it, you couldn’t help but wonder what Tiger Woods was thinking.
For much of Monday’s final round of the Deutsche Bank Championship, Woods had summoned some vintage final-round magic in an outfit (red shirt, black slacks) that, of course, is reserved for Sundays, not holiday finales. But perhaps this Monday finish was a reprieve – lately, Sundays haven’t been overly kind to Woods. This season, the most dominant closer in the sport’s history had started to kick away tournaments, and offer strange reasons for doing so. Prior to this week, Woods’ final-round scoring average was 70.83, which ranked him 73rd on Tour.
Cue the skepticism, then, because despite trailing Louis Oosthuizen by six shots entering the final round (and Rory McIlroy by three), Woods maintained that, yes, he could piece together a good round and hope for carnage. It merely required a hot start. Twice in his illustrious PGA Tour career had Woods clawed back from a five-shot deficit to win, but that was against a pair of unsuspecting foes, Matt Gogel (2000 AT&T) and Sean O’Hair (2009 Bay Hill).
This was different, however. In the final pairing here at TPC Boston was Oosthuizen, who authored the blowout victory at the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews, and McIlroy, a two-time major champion at the ripe age of 23.
Stirring the partisan crowd, Woods opened with three consecutive pars before a birdie on No. 4, and then again on No. 6, and before long he was in full flight – brisk walk, steely glare, and he kept chasing, really chasing, until, finally, the six-shot deficit was cut in half.
At last month’s PGA Championship, Woods admitted to being too nonchalant on the weekend when he had a chance to win major No. 15. He said he plays intense, full-systems-go, killer instinct. Always.
There were signs of that ruthless closer Monday, sure, but also of what we witnessed at Kiawah. For one, he genuinely enjoyed playing with Dustin Johnson, despite being outdriven on a few occasions by 25 yards. And during the front nine, when he was on his way to shooting 4-under 32 and moving into serious contention, Woods walk-and-talked up the seventh fairway with the 13-year-old standard bearer. The kid listened intently as Woods told the story of when he was that age, he’d bring home quarters, and then dollars, in skins games at his home club. The conversation lasted only a few minutes, and then it was over. Woods refocused, eventually made birdie on the par 5, and then continued trying to chase down the leaders.
So when he looked at that leaderboard near the 15th green, it stunned him a bit, if only briefly. Here was Woods, 4 under on the day (but with zero back-nine birdies to that point), 17 under for the tournament, grinding over every shot . . . and he still was four shots back with four to play.
“I certainly had my looks,” he’d lament later.
That was a common theme this week.
Woods shot 64 in the opening round, his best starting score in three years. And Seung-Yul Noh still was two shots better.
On Sunday, Woods shot a third-round score in the 60s for only the third time in his past 11 starts (68). And, after Louis Oosthuizen’s stunning 63, he still trailed by six shots.
And now this. Woods shot all four rounds in the 60s at TPC Boston (64-68-68-66), the first time he’s accomplished that feat in nearly three years. (The last time? The 2009 BMW Championship, which Woods won . . . by eight.) But this time, when three other players shot sub-70 rounds as well, Woods’ strong play was just good enough for solo third, at 18-under 266. That was two shots more than McIlroy, who matched Woods with his third PGA Tour victory of the season.
“After the first day, we figured it was going to be (a) pretty low (winning score),” Woods said afterward. “It was just soft, and the greens never really sped up. We were able to be aggressive all week.”
When Woods stared at the leaderboard near the 15th green Monday afternoon, when he really studied it, and he saw Rory McIlroy at 21 under par, and Louis Oosthuizen not far behind, you couldn’t help but wonder what he was thinking.
About the few chances he squandered on the back nine Monday?
About the couple of putts that didn’t drop on Saturday?
Or, perhaps, it was this: Is this how Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson felt for the past 10 or 15 years, when they’d grind for 72 holes and come up agonizingly short?
Woods is starting to empathize with that, finally. Because the new reality on Tour is that his very good play, even his exemplary play, won’t always be good enough.
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