For a second time Woods flinches in crunch time

By Doug FergusonAugust 31, 2009, 4:00 pm
The Barclays JERSEY CITY, N.J. ' Much to his chagrin, Tiger Woods has put some suspense back into golf.
 
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.
 
Surprise!
 
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.
 
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    Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

    He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

    “To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

    A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

    “It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

    Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

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    Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

    Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

    Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

    “A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

    “It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”  

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    They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.

    It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.

    Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.

    Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.

    Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.

    “I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”

    Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.

    Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.

    All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.

    If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.

    A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.

    Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

    “I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.



    Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).

    This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.

    Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.

    But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime

    “A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.

    But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

    “It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”

    By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.

    Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.

    Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.

    “I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”

    With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.

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    Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday

    By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.

    Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.


    Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”

    Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.

    “I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.