Tiger Woods, ever the golf historian, didn’t hesitate when asked how many times Jack Nicklaus finished second in a major: “Nineteen,” he said.
He may know the Golden Bear’s grand misses, but it’s likely the one Nicklaus record he has little interest in pursuing. Prior to the 105th U.S. Open, Woods had a single runner-up finish (2002 PGA Championship) in 33 major appearances as a professional.
“Remember what I said at Pebble Beach in ’97?” said Woods, who had summed up his runner-up effort at the AT&T with a succinct, “Second sucks.”
Woods, who finished two shots behind champion Michael Campbell at Pinehurst, appeared to have little chance early in the final round. After beginning the closing 18 holes six strokes back, his approach shots into the first two greens funneled off into collection areas and led to a pair of bogeys.
But it was Woods’ putter – specifically his inability to judge the speed of No. 2’s domed greens – that cost him his third U.S Open and his second major of the season.
“If you look at all my putts: short, long, short, long,” said Woods, who shot rounds of 70-71-72-69 for a 2-over 282. “If you’re doing that, you start trying to fiddlefart around and try to force putts in the hole.”
Third-round leader Retief Goosen’s Sunday collapse, combined with birdies at Nos. 4 and 7, helped Woods narrow the race, and he closed to within two shots of Campbell with three to play.
At the par-3 17th, Woods juiced his 25-foot birdie attempt 5 feet by and blocked his second past the hole to fall out of contention.
Slick, hard greens baffled Woods, whose 1.78 putts per green average ranked next to last among the players who made the cut. The worst came Saturday, when he made a season-worst 36 strokes on the greens.
He did, however, take solace in a solid ball-striking week in which he ranked first in greens in regulation and driving distance. At Augusta National, where he needed a magical chip-in and an extra hole to hold off Chris DiMarco, Woods said he won with a less-than-perfect swing.
“The quality of shots has gotten a lot better and that’s exciting,” said Woods, who has never come from behind to win a major.
Talk that Pinehurst is going to become a regular member of the U.S. Open rota also excites Woods. In two Opens at No. 2, Woods has tied for third (1999) and now second.
“I’m moving up the board,” he said.