Photo: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England -- For years Tiger Woods seemed to inhabit the right side of the fine line between winning and something else. Twinned with his greatness, especially in the major championships, those bits of good fortune helped his cause.
Woods' 5-iron to the demanding par-4 sixth hole Sunday in the final round of the British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes flirted with an evil bunker short of the sixth green.
"It was one yard," Woods said. "One yard."
These three feet didn't work in Woods' favor. His approach found the sand instead of safety, and he hardly had a shot. His only good luck was that the ricochet just missed him. Woods did well to escape the deep hazard on his second attempt after manufacturing a creative shot from his knees that rode the top of the face and skittered on the green.
Three putts and a triple bogey later, the chance that Woods was going to be able to come from behind for the first time after 54 holes to win a major was as bruised as his scorecard.
But his hopes weren't over. With 54-hole leader Adam Scott and others struggling on a links that thanks to a bit of breeze had regained its bite, Woods was still in the fray.
But he couldn't stay there.
Within striking distance after a birdie at No. 12, still trailing Scott by the five-shot margin with which he began the final round, Woods quickly spiraled out of contention with uneven moments that were reminiscent of his struggles at last month's U.S. Open at Olympic Club.
Bogey at 13. Bogey at 14. Bogey at 15. It was less than ordinary golf by an extraordinary golfer.
A birdie at No. 18 gave Woods a closing 73. Amid the messes so many were making on a testing day, he finished T-3 with Brandt Snedeker, four strokes behind champion Ernie Els, who won with a 72-hole total a shot higher than Woods thought would make a playoff when he made the turn.
Woods has now played 13 majors without a win, his last coming at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. Observers may see it as a Sahara Desert of a dry patch for the 36-year-old, but Woods -- who has won three PGA Tour events this year -- insists it is something less daunting.
"It's part of golf," he said Sunday evening. "We all go through these phases. Some people, it lasts entire careers. Others are a little shorter. Even the greatest players to ever play have gone through little stretches like this."
Since winning the 2008 U.S. Open, Woods has seven top-six finishes at majors. Other players would covet those like gold, but Woods is familiar with a greater vault. At Lytham, as at Olympic, he couldn't remember the combination that used to come so easily.
-- Bill Fields