Tiger Woods had a well-thought-out game plan going into the Open Championship. Come hell (Royal Lytham’s 206 bunkers) or high water (standard Open conditions), he was going to stick to it. In the end, arguably, it wasn’t his strategy that caused him to come up short of breaking his major-less streak, it was his execution (though I think he could have been less obstinate given the changing conditions).
The image of Woods kneeling down in an extremely awkward stance to hit his second shot out of a greenside bunker on No. 6 — after his first attempt caught the lip — will be the one we’re left with when we think of the 14-time major champion and the 142nd Open Championship. He coaxed the ball out onto the front of the green and three-putted for a triple bogey. Then, his three consecutive bogeys on the back nine killed any momentum he had left to make a charge.
Tiger shot a three-over 73 on Sunday at Royal Lytham and finished tied for third, four shots off the pace of Ernie Els’ winning total of seven-under.
Golf is a game of imperfection and millimeters. In Tiger’s case on No. 6, it was the difference of one yard. Tuned out he thought through the execution of the first bunker shot and explained (in detail) why he didn’t play it sideways.
“The problem is if I played left I wasn’t assured I could get it to the gallery and get it out of that slope because if it rolls back in the bunker and I’m on the downslope, then I’ve got no backswing,” Woods told reporters after the round. “So I had to be able to blast it into the gallery, and I didn’t think I could get it into the gallery because of the sand — how it piled up on the right side of the ball.
“So the game plan was to fire it into the bank, have it ricochet to the right and then have an angle to come back at it. Unfortunately it ricocheted to the left and almost hit me. Then I tried to play an interesting shot after that and ended up three-putting.”
The triple bogey was costly, but so were the three back-to-back bogeys. Explain the game plan more, please.
“I was right there, the game plan was to shoot under par going out,” said Tiger. “And with the wind the way it was blowing, I was right there in position. I was even par through 5. And 7 was reachable (Sunday). Obviously 9 is playing easy, so I was in position to do what I wanted to do and then turn home and shoot maybe 1- or 2- under par on the back nine and I would have posted an 8- or 9-under par.
“I thought that was going to be the number to win the golf tournament. I thought 8 was a playoff, 9 was to win outright. Unfortunately I just didn’t do it.”
As you heard a gazillion times last week, fairways were premium at Royal Lytham. To ensure he positioned himself well off the tee, Woods left driver in his bag for the most part — and finished second in driving accuracy for the championship (and 74th out of 83 in driving distance) — and he stubbornly didn’t adjust his plan. Arguably, he played the course too defensively. Maybe he should have attacked more coming down the stretch to give himself a shot at catching Adam Scott — or ultimately, Els.
That’s up for debate, but one thing’s for sure: Tiger’s mediocre wedge game cost him. He hit several poor shots from inside 150 yards each day.
“Overall I’m pleased with the way I played, unfortunately just a couple here and there ended up costing me some momentum, especially (Sunday) at No. 6,” he said. “Again, I left a lot of putts short out there. The greens were a little bit slow and I tried to put some more hit in my stroke, but they were dying off the front of the lip.”
Woods has won three PGA Tour events this season, which is super impressive and shouldn’t be discounted. We’re hypercritical of him because he is Tiger Woods and set incredibly high standards with what he accomplished in the pre-scandal era. He’s also hypercritical of himself. Though he seemed upbeat (relatively speaking) after his round in his interview with ESPN’s Tom Rinaldi, he was definitely pissed (or disappointed).
To Tiger’s credit, he stopped to thank R&A chief Peter Dawson, who was tightly clutching onto the Claret Jug, before he briskly walked off, with bodyguards flanking him on each side.
Another lost opportunity at a major championship. He’s got one shot left in 2012 to capture the elusive No. 15. This year is feeling more and more like 2009 — when he won six regular events but came up short at the four tournaments that matter most.
(Getty Images/Stuart Franklin)