Reigning and Pouring
The 135th British Open ended in a startling upset.
All but cemented as a story of unearthly resourcefulness and ruthlessness, it veered at the last minute into a case of earthly sadness.
The resourcefulness had come from Tiger Woods, who constrained his inner ball-destroyer, extracted his driver only once in 72 holes and exacted an 11th major title using atypical gizmos like the passe two-iron.
The ruthlessness had come from, again, Tiger Woods, who healed each blotch of doubt in a Sunday of near-certainty with his knack for repelling challenges, as when Chris DiMarco twice lurked within one shot and Woods sweated so much he promptly birdied Nos. 14, 15 and 16 to clinch.
Then, after a tap-in putt for a closing par, a two-stroke win and the first repeat in the Open championship since Tom Watson in 1983, the sadness came, from a Tiger Woods the world hadn’t seen, the upset surprising even himself.
“You know me,” he said, and so the world does, having seen the stoic Woods greet 10 previous major titles with fist pumps, air punches, beaming grins, serial embraces and fleeting tears, but never the kind of protracted, quaking sob that shook caddie Steve Williams’ shoulder on the 18th green at Royal Liverpool.
That jolting cry signified not title No. 11, which matched Walter Hagen to rank behind only Jack Nicklaus’ 18, but title No. 1 since the death on May 3 of Earl Woods, Tiger’s father and golf sage through a heady Cypress childhood and beyond.
As Woods detached from Williams and turned to walk off, one of the world’s more familiar faces looked unfamiliarly distraught heading into quivering hugs behind the green with wife Elin and trainer Keith Klevin.
Upon returning moments later to accept his third Claret Jug, Woods told the audience, “I realized that, you know, my dad’s never going to see this again. I wish he could’ve seen this one last time.”
Describing himself in his news conference as “kind of the one who bottles things up,” he said, “But at that moment it just came pouring out.”
It did take uncommon pouring-out to eclipse the uncommon nature of the 18-under-par 270 that lapped up just shy of Woods’ Open-record 19-under at St. Andrews in 2000. The 21-year-old of 1997 who epitomized contemporary golf machismo with his gasp-inducing 300-yard drives had become a 30-year-old content to occupy fairway spots 50 yards behind playing partners.
To a repertoire already peerless, he’d added the uncanny capacity to channel Fred Funk. Using a two-iron he hadn’t used since late last year in Japan, plus a three-iron, four-iron and three-wood, Woods finished first in the field in fairways hit with 86% and second in greens hit with 81%.
He essentially bunted his way around the course, a strategy devised after two holes of his first practice round, when he grasped “kind of the theme of the course,” said his coach, Hank Haney. That entailed cuddling up shy of bunkers instead of flying over them onto linoleum ground where the ball might get disobedient.
“The thing that allowed him to play that way is he can hit the two-iron, three-iron and four-iron real low,” Haney said. “If he can’t do that, he can’t play that strategy.”
Even as Sunday brought the Irish Sea’s first middling wind gusts of the tournament, Woods’ precision stayed somewhere between methodical and sublime. He hit three errant shots all tournament by Haney’s count; this, one month after missing the cut at the U.S. Open. His 67 tied for lowest round Sunday.
“I may have started a ball left a couple of times or hit a couple to the right, but they were hit flush,” Woods said, “and that’s a pretty neat feeling when you’re able to do that, to never really mis-hit a golf shot, to hit it flush.”
With the newfangled archery portion of his game a fresh worry for the rest of the field, Woods set about utilizing an old tool, his fearless front-running. He typically drained suspense from the event and confidence from rivals. From No. 4 on Friday to the finish, he never saw second place.
Not even playing partner Sergio Garcia’s Tweety Bird-yellow outfit could distract him.
Among morning contenders to Woods’ one-shot lead, Jim Furyk and Angel Cabrera fell away first, the former with bogeys on the first two holes and the latter with a triple-bogey seven on No. 2. Garcia seemed to shrink figuratively, his penchant of Sunday sags deepening in a three-putt parade that fed a front-nine 39, 10 shots more than he’d played it during Saturday’s 65.
When Ernie Els made birdie at No. 5 to tie Woods at 13 under, Woods made eagle at No. 5 exactly 15 minutes later to lead by two. While Els faded and DiMarco intruded with a 25-foot birdie at No. 13, an outrageous 60-foot par save at No. 14 and an 18-foot birdie at No. 16, Woods merely birdied No. 14 immaculately from eight feet, the par-3 No. 15 masterfully from seven and No. 16 easily with a tap-in.
“He wasn’t going to not win this tournament,” Haney said, and so Woods walked up No. 18 to consuming roars, the picture of resourcefulness.
Moments later, the picture changed uncontrollably, and right after the kind of 72-hole control Earl Woods would’ve relished.
“He would have been very proud,” Woods said. “Very proud. He was always on my case about thinking my way around the golf course and not letting emotions get the better of you, because it’s so easy to do in this sport. And if you just use your mind to plot your way around the golf course, and if you had to deviate from the game plan, make sure it is the right decision to do that. He was very adamant that I play like that my entire career.”
Therein lay both feat and pain.
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Tiger Woods moved into a tie with Walter Hagen for second place on the all-time list for most professional golf major championships.
*--* Jack Nicklaus (18) * Masters 6 * PGA 5 * U.S. Open 4 * British Open 3 Tiger Woods (11) * Masters 4 * British Open 3 * U.S. Open 2 * PGA 2 Walter Hagen (11) * British Open 4 * U.S. Open 2 * PGA 5
Source: Associated Press
11 - Majors won in 45 attempts; Jack Nicklaus won nine in as many tries.
270 - Score after 72 holes at Royal Liverpool; shot a 67 in the final round.
3 - British Open titles won; the other two came at St. Andrews.
11-0 - Record in majors when he has at least a share of the lead going into final round.