Monday, April 14, 2003
Woods never a threat
By Tim Dahlberg
The Associated Press
AUGUSTA, Ga. - By the time he reached Amen Corner, Tiger Woods was done. Roars echoed through the tall pines, but on this Sunday they were meant for others.
Up ahead, Len Mattiace was making eagle on the 13th hole to stake his claim to the Masters. Just behind him, Mike Weir was making no mistakes.
Woods could only listen. For once, there was nothing he could do.
There would be no record third straight green jacket, no comeback for the ages.
Worst of all, there would be no thrill of a back nine chase.
"It was just one of those weeks where I couldn't get anything going for an extended time," Woods said.
A week that started with Woods heavily favored to do something no one else had ever done - win a third straight Masters - ended instead with the world's best player reduced to the ceremonial role of slipping the green jacket over Weir's shoulders.
It wasn't exactly what he had in mind after a third-round 66 set him up for a big Sunday charge to history.
"It's not easy. No one's ever done it," Woods said. "Obviously, it's proven it's hard to do."
Woods made a week's worth of mistakes, but it was the big one he made in judgment on the third hole Sunday that may have sealed his fate.
Thinking about hitting an iron off the tee on the short par-4 and then a wedge into the green, Woods listened as caddie Steve Williams urged him to bust a driver instead to get within chipping range.
Six adventurous shots later - one of them left-handed - Woods walked off the green with a double bogey that he never seemed to recover from.
"That cost me a lot of 'mo," he said.
If body language was to be believed, it also almost cost him a relationship with his caddie. Woods stalked down the next hole well behind Williams and didn't ask for any help in reading his putt on the fourth green.
Maybe he should have, since Woods left it well short, then missed the second putt. Instead of an opening charge, Woods was 3-over for four holes and going backward.
"Looking back, I should have laid it back there and trusted my wedge game," Woods said. "But hindsight is 20-20."
Later, Woods declined to blame his caddie, saying the decision ultimately is "the player's choice."
Woods needed a short birdie putt on the ninth hole just to break 40 on the front nine, and many of the fans who had followed him through the front side had pretty much given up hope and gone to see the leaders.
Woods was still grinding, though, trying to figure out a number that might somehow still make it happen.
"I birdied nine and I figured if I could shoot 30 on the back nine you never know," Woods said. "I just didn't do it."
For the record, Woods shot a 36 on the back nine, for a 75 that matched the worst score he has ever shot in the final round of a major championship. It left him nine shots back. His rain-delayed first-round 76 in the muck and mire on Friday was also his worst first round in the Masters.
Even while needing a 3-footer just to make the cut on Saturday, though, Woods was plotting ways to win. Eleven shots back after two rounds, he stormed up the leaderboard with a 66 that left him four shots out beginning play Sunday.
"That's sports," Woods said. "It's why we play, to put yourself in position. You're not going to win every time."
Woods didn't win this time because he couldn't get past the front nine of Augusta National.
In four rounds, he shot 39 three times on the front side. Twice, he had to make crucial putts on the ninth hole to avoid shooting 40.
He played shots out of positions he had never been in before, hitting balls under and through trees and, incredibly, playing a par-5 (No. 8) 2-over-par for the week.
"I just didn't drive it consistently enough or shape it good enough the entire week," Woods said.
That hurt him every day, but never more than on Sunday when he decided against the 2-iron on the 350-yard third hole and took out the driver instead.
He was trying to make something happen, trying to push the action. It proved disastrous.
Woods hit the drive right, into the azaleas. He was forced to play left-handed, punching the shot out in front of the green. He then nearly bladed a wedge over the green and chunked another one short before finally walking away with a double bogey six.
"I just kept compounding one problem after another," he said.
Around the course, players kept glancing up at the green and white scoreboards to find Woods' name.
Shockingly, it wasn't anywhere to be seen.
"I guess you expect it from him," Jim Furyk said. "When he's down he always seems to come back."
Not this Sunday. For once, it was one comeback too much for Woods.
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