2002: So long, Slam, but Tiger stays sunny

Gullane, Scotland

Judging by his sunny demeanor Saturday night, you never would have guessed Tiger Woods had suffered such a gloomy afternoon.

His hopes for winning the Grand Slam had been blown out the window – a third-round 81 in horrendous weather conditions saw to that – yet Woods’ disposition was “phenomenal,” said his neighbor and fishing partner, Mark O’Meara.

“What can you do?” O’Meara said as he packed his car Sunday afternoon and rushed off to catch a ride back to Orlando, Fla., on Woods’ jet. “I think he was disappointed, but you never would have known last night he shot 81, the worst round of his professional career. It was cool to see him bounce back and make a good score today.”

For the record, Woods shot 70-68-81-65 for an even-par 284, which earned him a nine-way tie for 28th place and pocket change of $37,924.

Statistically, he finished 48th in the irrelevant category of driving distance, averaging 264.4 yards on the two measured holes each day. He tied for 29th in fairways hit, with 73 percent; tied for 23rd in greens in regulation with 69 percent; and tied for 42nd in putts, with 30.25 per round.

However, Woods led the field in magnanimity. He smiled at his misfortunes, signed autographs and promptly met the media after each round.

Woods’ adventure at Muirfield began on a humorous note, when a dutiful security guard denied him access to the practice range Monday because he wasn’t displaying the proper credential.

“It’s going to be a fun week,” he twice predicted during his Tuesday news conference. Asked how he’d cope if it were to rain or turn windy, Woods replied: “I enjoy the challenge of having to go out there and post a number in bad conditions. It’s not easy to do.”

Before Woods had struck two shots in Round 1, a photographer was ejected for distracting him. Woods saved par at the first despite hitting his opening drive into the hay. At day’s end he trailed the leaders by three shots; after 36 holes, he was only two behind. But the gap became insurmountable – not so much the 11 shots, but the 66 players he trailed – after Saturday’s debacle. Yet he summoned his pride and finished with a closing 65, tying his second-best score at a major. (Woods shot 64 in the third round of the Open at Troon in 1997.)

Woods’ swing coach and confidant, Butch Harmon, said he didn’t speak to his pupil Saturday night, but “he was fine (Sunday) morning.”

“He said he tried as hard as he could,” said Harmon, “which is all you can do under those circumstances. The British Open is that kind of tournament. You get caught out in the weather like he did, and he teed off right in the height of it, that’s just the way it goes. He came back today and played a beautiful round of golf. That shows you the competitor and the class of a guy he is.”

Victimized by Saturday’s weather, Woods’ attempt to win the third leg of the Grand Slam was equally sabotaged by an uncooperative putter. He three-putted only once, but acknowledged having difficulty reading Muirfield’s greens. Pins were cut on “knobs and crests,” he pointed out, and the putting surfaces were slow compared with typical PGA Tour conditions. Several times each round Woods watched in frustration as birdie attempts burned the edge or lipped out.

“I tried to tell myself again and again and again, all day, to just stay committed to your putts,” Woods said after Round 2. “Pick the line and go ahead and hit it. But I feel comfortable with the putts. The stroke is good and they’re just not dropping.”

They never did, at least with the frequency Woods expects. Even during the closing 65.

“If you watched him even today, he missed a lot of makable putts,” Harmon said Sunday. “And he’d step back, because he misread the green or something. If he putts at all yesterday, he shoots 75 or 76 and he’s still in the tournament. He missed so many little putts yesterday it was unbelievable.”

Woods had many people believing that 2002 would be a Grand Slam year. Much to the disappointment of the PGA of America, its championship next month at Hazeltine will be just another major.

Still, when asked about the prospects of winning his eighth major in 13 starts, Woods was realistic.

“Two would be a great year,” he said. “I think sometimes the media and everybody tend to lose perspective on how difficult it is to win a major championship. Anytime you can win one major in a year, it is going to be a successful year.”

Meanwhile, Woods will have to endure the razzing of his 45-year-old pal O’Meara, who tied for 22nd at Muirfield.

“He may have shot 65,” O’Meara said wryly as he slammed his car trunk closed, “but I still beat him.”









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