For nine holes Woods played golf from heaven as millions dreamed of him winning a 15th major but a mid-round collapse shattered it all
Tiger Woods
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Tiger Woods hails the gallery as he approaches the 18th green at Carnoustie.

Rewriting history is damnably difficult and Tiger Woods could not quite keep his hand on a quivering pen here. There was an echo of Muhammad Ali’s autumn days about the closing of the 147th Open as the gallery and the sport willed their hero on towards deeds that, ultimately, he was unable to deliver.

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For nine holes Woods played golf from heaven. He briefly led on his own, even, for the first time in seven years. He and millions of others dreamed of him winning a 15th major, his first in a decade, but a mid-round collapse did for Woods, decked with his hands almost on the title. In the end, he could do no more than watch as his designated sparring partner, Francesco Molinari, became the first Italian to win the Claret Jug.

Perhaps we had no right to demand more from Woods in his return here after three years and four back operations, and his 71 for 279, three behind the winner, was not bad in this company and these circumstances.

Woods craved a statement to frighten the field, but missed a long birdie on the 1st. On the 461-yard 2nd, he got length and accuracy off the tee again but misjudged the speed and angle of his birdie attempt from 15 feet.

With the defending champion Jordan Spieth two groups behind and four shots clear alongside Xander Schauffele, Woods needed to make the most of every scoring chance on the easier front nine. An 18mph breeze blew over his right shoulder as he hit out of light, matted grass on the right of the 3rd’s fairway, clearing the burn with yards to spare rather than attacking the short-placed pin. His putt bobbled and he made par.

He took his driver out on the 415-yard 4th, finding a decent lie past the dog-leg, from where a 134-yard shot gave him his fourth birdie chance – and this time he nailed it, from 15 feet. A statement at last: three behind Spieth and Schauffele, and the only player under par to that point among the serious contenders. Now he looked a threat.

His driving remained deadly straight, safely short of the ditch that crossed the fairway at 280 yards on the 5th. His ball rolled away from the hole into a minor valley and he made par again when he could have had more.

Tiger Woods led briefly on the final day but was unable to secure his first major in a decade.
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Tiger Woods led briefly on the final day but was unable to secure his first major in a decade. 

Back with the driver on the 580-yard 6th, he negotiated bunkers on the right and joined a select group to reach the green in two – into a swelling breeze – 94 feet from the pin across undulating and left-turning grass for eagle. He was glad of the birdie and briefly alone at seven under, now a single shot behind Spieth and Schauffele, both of whom gave one back on five.

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It was nearly two hours before Woods made a genuine mistake, finding a bunker on the 410-yard 7th but, from a friendly lie, he popped his shot to within four feet and saved. He got out of another bunker on the 9th to hold steady.

Woods was firmly in a world of his own – and tied with Schauffele in the lead, as Spieth suffered. After 10 years, we were back in Tiger business. As Darren Clarke remarked, “At his best, he bores the golf course to death.” But this was anything but boring. Nine holes from home, he had lit up not just Carnoustie but the whole of golf.

The wind faded and Woods turned for home as the sentimental and logical favourite as his rivals began to sweat and stumble. He did not strike it so sweetly off the tee on 10, however, and needed an extraordinary shot out of a bunker to reach the edge of the green, an escape that will stay on highlight reels for years to come.

It is a measure of his dominance that the excellence of his playing partner Molinari was almost invisible to the lively gallery. That was about to change. Woods found hay on the right of the 382-yard 11th and, hitting into a 19mph wind, thrashed it into some ugly rough at the back after bouncing off a spectator, misjudged a difficult chip and three-putted to slip back to five under. With only a couple of easy holes left and the hardest treble in golf to finish, it was Tiger’s turn to sweat. When he bogeyed the 12th, it was as if someone had stolen a child’s Christmas present.

A missed birdie at 13 left him two behind the leaders. The quiet consistency of Molinari was the centre-pin of the group as he logged his 13th successive par. On the 14th, which had given up 54 birdies, the Italian went long and straight, the American long and left. Desperate, Woods chipped high from distance on the green, falling way short, then birdied with a bobbling, nerve-shredding putt to stay in the fight.

The 15th, 16th and the dreaded 17th passed without incident – then he missed an easy birdie on the last, which summed up his day. He gave Molinari a hug for his winning birdie, and the story was told.

THE BACKDROP THAT LEAD INTO SUNDAY’S UNBELIEVABLE RATINGS BONANZA

Tiger Heads Into Sunday At The Open Tied For 6th

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Saturday’s have brought out the best in Tiger Woods this year, and he thrived again in the third round of the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Links.

Taking advantage of the tame conditions and setup, he fired a 5-under-par 66 and surged into a share of sixth place heading into Sunday’s final round.

Woods has a 54-hole score of 5-under 208 and will be chasing a trio of young Americans – defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele, knotted at 9-under 204.

Woods started the third round tied for 29th, six strokes back.

“I played well today,” said Woods. “I really did. I hit a lot of good shots.”

He entered the tournament with the best third-round scoring average on the PGA Tour: 68.44. Bettering that in a major made it sweeter.

“It’s been a few years since I’ve felt like this in a major,” he said. “I really felt like I had control of my golf ball. And, on top of that, I made some longer putts, which was nice.”

None was bigger than at the first hole, where he pulled his short second shot left of the green, hit a poor chip, then saved par with a 15-footer.

Woods birdied five of the next 10 holes, including a 35-foot bomb at the par-4 ninth that dented the back of the cup.

After shooting 3-under 33 on the front nine, he nearly holed out a 9-iron from 140 yards at the par-4 10th, resulting in a kick-in birdie. He made it three-in-a-row after almost driving the par-4 11th, two-putting for birdie from 95 feet.

Woods got the Carnoustie crowds buzzing following a nice two-putt birdie at the par-5 14th. That lifted him into a share of the lead and the fans erupted when his hand-posted score was updated on the giant yellow scoreboards.

“I didn’t know I was tied for the lead,” said Woods. “I was just trying to concentrate on playing the last four holes under par.”

The last time he led or shared the top-spot in a major was at the 2012 PGA Championship, when he was tied after 36 holes.

Woods nearly assumed first place alone at the par-4 15th, where his 20-foot birdie putt burned the right edge of the cup. He hit a quality tee shot at the tough par-3 16th, but got unlucky when his ball caught a slope and rolled off the green to the right. Woods left his uphill birdie putt seven feet short and missed the next, his only bogey of the round.

“Two terrible putts,” he said.

Woods regrouped quickly, making two solid swings at the demanding par-4 17th. His 20-foot birdie putt didn’t scare the hole, but left a stress-free tap-in for par, always a bonus at 17.

The bad break at 16 evened out at 18. Woods pulled an iron toward Barry Burn, but remarkably, the ball just cleared the burn and settled in thick rough.

“The only bad swing I made all day,” said Woods, a three-time winner of the coveted Claret Jug.

With 240 yards to the green, fronted by a burn, he wisely gouged his second shot back into the fairway and had 83 yards to pin. Woods liked the number and proved it, flagging his next shot three feet behind the hole and converted the par-saving putt.

“Just like the ones I’ve practiced in my backyard,” he said.

The last time Woods broke 70 in a major was 11 years ago to the day (July 21, 2007) at Carnoustie, when he posted 69. The 66 was his best in any major since a second-round 66 at the 2011 Masters.

Saturday marked the third time in his career he has started a major championship with three rounds of par or better. Woods went on to win three of the five.

Playing partner Shaun Norris of South Africa was amazed by the atmosphere.

“It’s absolutely crazy to think so many people can follow a person,” said the well-traveled 36-year-old. “There’s a couple holes that people may be standing 15, 20 deep on each side. I think the best word to describe it all is the way Russell Knox put it, it’s like playing with a mythical creature. It doesn’t feel real.”

Following the round, Woods signed several golf gloves for Norris to give to his friends.

After playing conservatively the first two days – partly due to the tougher conditions – Woods was more aggressive off the tee. He hit driver a combined four times on Thursday and Friday – three in the latter – but used it six times Saturday. Most were flushed and four led to birdies.

“The course was gettable,” said Woods. “I didn’t want to be too far back.”

The average score was 70.23, the lowest in eight Opens at Carnoustie.

Woods seemed calm and comfortable. He hit 12 of 15 fairway, 14 of 18 greens and recorded 29 putts.

On Sunday, the 42-year-old Woods seeks his 80th career victory on the PGA Tour and 15th major title.

He tees off at 2:25 p.m. local time (9:25 a.m. ET) in the third-to-last group with Francesco Molinari of Italy.

There is a slight chance of morning rain, but wind could increase to 25-miles-per-hour later.

Having missed the last two Opens due to injury, Woods is thrilled to be in this position. He is tied for first in driving accuracy (76 percent), has yet to record a double bogey, and avoided every bunker Saturday.

Woods has already posted three top fives and five top 12’s this season, his best showing second at the Valspar Championship. In a sense, he’s playing with the house money.

“I’ve had a chance to win,” said Woods. “Given what happened the last two years, I didn’t know if that would ever happen again. But here I am with a chance Sunday in a major championship. It’s going to be fun.”

Norris wouldn’t be surprised to see him holding the claret jug.

“I wouldn’t put it past him,” he said.

Woods Continues At Even Par After Round 2 At The Open

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sticking with his strategy, Tiger Woods carded a second consecutive even-par 71 Friday in the second round of the 147th Open Championship at cool and rainy Carnoustie Golf Links.

As he did Thursday, Woods played conservatively, hitting mostly irons off the tee for position. Although it left him longer approach shots, he gladly sacrificed distance to avoid bunkers and burns.

Woods used a similar game plan in the 2006 Open at sun-baked Royal Liverpool, and it worked to perfection. He pulled out one driver and captured his third claret jug.

On Thursday, Woods opted for the big stick once, and used it four times on Friday, finding one fairway. While persistent rain was a pain, it also slowed down the rock-hard fairways, allowing players to be more aggressive.

“They weren’t as fiery,” he said. “The ball wasn’t rolling 80, 90 yards like it was yesterday.”

Woods has a 36-hole score of 142 and is tied for 29th, six strokes behind co-leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner. It was the first time since the 2013 Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes that Woods has posted par or better in the first two rounds at a major championship.

“It was a test,” said Woods, who recorded four birdies and four bogeys. “I could have cleaned up the round a little bit. And I did not exactly get off to the best start.”

On Thursday, he birdied two of the first four holes. Friday, he bogeyed two of the first three.

“Today wasn’t quite as good, but I finally birdied a par-5, so that’s a positive,” he said.

An early starter with Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama, the trio dealt with rain and drizzle most of the round. For the second straight day, Woods wore KT Tape to aid a stiff neck.

He regained the dropped shots with back-to-back birdies at the par-4 fourth and fifth holes. A nice approach set up the first from 12 feet below the flag, the second was a 25-foot putt.

A poor approach resulted in a bogey at the par-4 ninth, Woods lipped out his par attempt from six feet.

He got that back by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-4 11th. Woods climbed into red figures by reaching the par-5 14th with a 3-iron and 5-iron, two-putting from 20 feet.

On the testy par-3 16th, he blocked his tee shot into the right bunker and was unable to save par. But he made solid pars at 17 and 18.

At the latter, he flushed an iron down the fairway, then hoisted a majestic 6-iron that stopped just inside seven-feet, left of the pin. His birdie try grazed the right edge of the cup, Woods staring in disbelief.

For the day, he hit 11 of 15 fairways, 13 greens and used 33 putts. He ranks second in the field in fairways found.

Afterward, Woods skipped the practice range and went to the gym to lift weights.

A good portion of the leaderboard is occupied by players who drew early-late starts. Woods went late-early.

“They had no wind yesterday and they have very little wind this afternoon with a softer course,” Woods said.

Conditions should be more equitable Saturday, as the field has been trimmed from 156 to 67. The cut came at 3-over 145.

There are 28 players under par.

“I’m certainly right in it,” said Woods.

On Saturday, he starts at 1:15 p.m. local time (8:15 a.m. ET) with Shaun Norris of South Africa. There is no rain in the forecast, but more wind is expected.