The Loop

The Loop

Diaz: Only the Final Putt Convinced Us This Was Tiger

June 15, 2008

LA JOLLA, Calif. -- Sunday at the 108th U.S. Open was opposite day for Tiger Woods. Clearly, it was in sharp contrast to all the drama of Saturday. But it was most opposite from his trademark closeout Sundays.

Woods began Sunday with a one-stroke lead. Everyone knows when Woods is in the lead at a major after 54 holes, it's lights out. He's been in that position 13 times, and won 13 times.

In such situations under championship conditions, Woods goes into a mistake-free zone. He puts the ball in the fairway. He hits it in the middle of the greens. He leaves himself tap-in par putts. When he misses a shot, it's not on the "short" side. In short, he doesn't beat himself. He makes the field come and get him. Nobody ever does.

But this Sunday, Woods made mistakes. He missed fairways. He missed greens. He short-sided himself. He left himself tough par putts. And he came back to the field.

It started on the first hole. After a practice session in which he swung in rhythm, never showed pain, and never really missed a shot, Woods stepped to the first tee and hit a horrible double-cross pull into trampled-down rough. Then the rough snagged his iron and sent his second shot further left. Then he hit a tree with his third, the ball remaining in the rough. When he holed out for a six, it was his third double bogey on the 448-yard first hole in four days. It was also perhaps the worst hole Tiger Woods has ever played in a U.S. Open in which he was in contention.

The lead gone, Woods blocked his drive on the second into the rough. He had to chop out to the front of the green, 50 feet from the pin. He left himself a six-footer for par that even so early in the round seemed a must make. He missed. Now he trailed by two.

Woods stabilized, but the knee pain seemed to be clouding his focus, perhaps his judgment and ultimately his confidence. When he stepped onto the back tee of the 614-yard 13th, he had fought his way back into the lead. It was time to take over. On cue, Woods hit a good drive that left him 270 yards to the front of the green on a hole he had eagled twice in the previous three rounds. There was one place he could not miss--well left of the green into ice plant designated as a lateral hazard. Shockingly, that's where Woods--with the same kind of double-cross he committed on the first hole--hit his ball. It's a shot that will go into the Woods Opposite Hall of Fame.

The shot was so traumatizing that on the 267-yard 14th, a glorified par 3 when the forward tee is used like it was Sunday, Woods, now trailing by one, LAID UP with a 7-iron. His reason: a "terrible number," contending that a 3-wood was too much and a 5-wood too little. What was really going on was the residual shock of the previous 3-wood made Woods scared to gear down the club. A mediocre pitch led to a desultory par.

Then on the 478-yard par-4 15th, Woods made yet another miscue by blocking his drive into a scruffy lie in the rough, then compounded the problem by trying to hit a risky 7-iron 180 yards over a tree. He didn't get clean contact, lost the shot to the right, short-siding himself in the rough and made saving par too difficult. Another bogey, and from the verge of having his 14th major championship nailed shut, Woods was a stroke behind.

Fortunately for Woods, Rocco Mediate couldn't add a clinching birdie on the par-5 18th. But when Woods reached the 18th needing a 4 to get into a playoff, the opposite theme continued. Needing a drive in the fairway more than at any time in the championship, Woods pulled an attempted fade into the fairway bunker. His recovery was shockingly sloppy, sliding into the right rough instead of the much desired short grass. Woods had held his patience admirably to this point, but he was so appalled at his sand shot that he threw his club down into the sand, picked it up and whacked his bag so hard three balls fell out.

Surely his error-strewn day was finally over, but fittingly, Woods again went the other way. From a hairy lie 101 yards from the hole, Woods dug out a 60-degree wedge that somehow landed and sucked back to 10 feet. Done with opposites, Woods went back into major championship-winning mode. He made the putt.

--Jaime Diaz