Woods shows magical form in taking U.S. Open lead

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GOLF/PGA Misses plenty of fairways, but makes up for it with his putter

In the Torrey Pines media centre Friday evening, after Tiger Woods shot 68, hundred of fingers hovered over keyboards, dying to type the words: "It's over." Somehow, the fingers resisted.

They should have gone with their first impulse.

Twenty-four hours later, the fellow who seemed poised to blow the field away at the 108th U.S. Open was hitting it everywhere but where he was aiming, and falling far enough back that winning his 14th major championship here this week was looking somewhere between unlikely and - given his history without a final-round comeback in a major - improbable.

Tiger Woods urges on his putt on the 10th hole as he comes short of the cup on Saturday. - Photo by the Associated Press

LA JOLLA, Calif. - In the Torrey Pines media centre Friday evening, after Tiger Woods shot 68, hundred of fingers hovered over keyboards, dying to type the words: "It's over." Somehow, the fingers resisted.

They should have gone with their first impulse.

Twenty-four hours later, the fellow who seemed poised to blow the field away at the 108th U.S. Open was hitting it everywhere but where he was aiming, and falling far enough back that winning his 14th major championship here this week was looking somewhere between unlikely and - given his history without a final-round comeback in a major - improbable.

Not impossible, mind you. We wouldn't go that far.

And then the world tilted, as it often does when Tiger is walking on it.

First, the game's greatest player made the world's most incredible eagle at the 13th hole, just when his hopes seemed to be bleeding away with every swing of his errant driver.

He hit it so far right off the tee at the 539-yard 13th that he was in Port-a-Potty territory in a trampled down fan walkway, then hit a screaming four-iron right over the flagstick to the back fringe and holed a 67-foot eagle putt that would have been good if the hole had been the circumference of a beer bottle.

If he wins this thing today, that will be the hole that won it for him.

Three hours earlier, Phil Mickelson had made a nine there. Tiger made a three.

And he was just warming up.

He missed the next four fairways, too, made a bogey at the 14th, and pulled another miracle out of his nether regions at No. 17, where he one-hopped a 40-foot chip shot into the hole off the flagstick, for birdie.

Then, after finally finding a fairway at the 18th, he hit a towering five-wood on to the green and, from above the hole on a ticklish bank that left a 30-foot steep downhiller, naturally he rolled that one in for an eagle - his second in six holes - and the outright lead.

So forget the comeback. Let's count, instead, the number of times Woods has held or shared the lead heading into the final round of a major and coughed it up. That would be, uh, zero.

He's 13-for-13, and today at Torrey Pines South, it falls to Lee Westwood, the 35-year-old from Worksop, England, to end that streak.

Westwood did nothing more exciting than shoot a one-under-par 70 - though he's been par or better all three rounds, pretty strong on a U.S. Open course - but he moved all the way to the top as the leaders stumbled all around him, and seemed certain to be sleeping on the lead at 2-under-par until Woods went 3-under on the final two holes to pass him.

Woods made three or four shots on that last nine that will go in anyone's Hall of Fame.

"What do you mean? I made 17 pars and a birdie, just a boring round of golf," joked Woods, who actually made a double, three bogeys, three birdies and two eagles.

"Seriously, it was a horrible start and somehow I got it back under par for the day, but there was a lot of luck involved. On 17, that ball had no business going into the hole, I hit it too hard and thought Id be looking at eight feet coming back. I was trying not to make six, instead I walk off with a three.

"On 13, I was trying to hit that five-iron into the back bunker, but somehow it stayed on the green, and when that putt went in, I mean . . . then on 18, I was glad to see Robert's (Karlsson) putt, because it broke right more than I thought, so I gave it a little extra break and it went right in."

Rocco Mediate, the 45-year-old who has come back from near-crippling back problems, seemed in complete control at four-under par - two-under for the day - after 12 holes, but proceeded to lose four strokes on the next four holes, including a double-bogey at the 15th, and tumble right out of the lead. He birdied the 17th to get back under par, but he was watching the Tiger fireworks happening ahead of him and could only shake his head afterwards.

"I just . . . it was like, 'What are you doing? Stop it!'" said Mediate. "But it didn't make me play any differently, I just drew a couple of awful lies on 15 and, you know, I've had good lies all week, so I can't complain."

Everyone but Mediate got off to a rotten start.

The 448-yard first hole was playing dead into a significant breeze, in heavy air, and for the second time in three days, it extracted a double-bogey from Woods, who drove into deep rough left and promptly undid most of his good work from Friday's 68.

It also was the beginning of a long front-nine slide for 36-hole leader Stuart Appleby, who dropped five shots with three bogeys and a double (with a four-putt on No. 5) in the first six holes, and for Sweden's Karlsson, who began the day tied with Woods but blew up spectacularly with bogeys at the first and eighth and double-bogeys at the third and sixth.

ccole@png.canwest.com

Organizations: U.S. Open

Geographic location: LA JOLLA, Potty territory, Worksop England Sweden

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  • K
    July 02, 2010 - 13:28

    One question AF Have you ever seen Tiger in person? I have. He's not Arnold like as you claim. He's muscular yes, but definitely not blosted like somone on sterioids. Just because he takes care of himself. doesn't mean he's juiced.

  • AF
    July 02, 2010 - 13:26

    im sure tiger woods is taking steriods and othe players too..just look at all the testosterone..tiger is starting to look like mini arnold(GOV).

  • K
    July 01, 2010 - 20:16

    One question AF Have you ever seen Tiger in person? I have. He's not Arnold like as you claim. He's muscular yes, but definitely not blosted like somone on sterioids. Just because he takes care of himself. doesn't mean he's juiced.

  • AF
    July 01, 2010 - 20:13

    im sure tiger woods is taking steriods and othe players too..just look at all the testosterone..tiger is starting to look like mini arnold(GOV).