Tiger Woods blamed a balky putter for leading him to his highest-ever third-round score as a professional in a U.S. Open and knocking him out of the hunt for his 15th major championship. He shot a 77 in 1996 as an amateur and missed the cut.
"It is certainly frustrating, because I certainly was feeling like I was playing well this week and I just didn't make the putts I needed to make," Woods told reporters after shooting a 6-over 76. "I missed a boatload of putts within 10 feet."
With one of those misses a two-footer for par on the 16th, it’s difficult to argue with Woods’ analysis of a game that had him 10 shots behind 54-hole leader Phil Mickelson heading into Sunday’s finale at tough and tight Merion Golf Club.
Woods has struggled all week with the speed of the greens and 36 putts on his long day (96 for the week) proved his point.
"I didn't make anything today," Woods said. "I just couldn't get a feel for [the greens], some putts were slow, some were fast and I had a tough time getting my speed right."
But it was more than his shortest stick that had the world No. 1 going backwards on moving day. Woods has hit 79 percent of fairways and 67 percent of greens in regulations so far, but his short game in general has been a mess.
A chunked chip on No. 6 was a microcosm of his woes, but Woods blamed bad luck at the fifth for changing his day into a nightmare.
"I think the five really turned my round around," Woods said about the bogey after his drive split the fairway but found a divot. "I drove it right in the middle of the fairway and I end up in a ball mark from somebody else's ball mark, so it was kind of the way it went."
His second shot was short, and after putting up a slope, he missed an eight-footer. Even on the 98-yard par-3 13th, which played as the second-shortest hole in Open history, Woods could not convert for birdie, which was the score of a third of the field.
Woods’ day started out on a high note, with a birdie on the first. But that was it for the highlight reel, as the oddsmakers’ prohibitive favorite coming into the week looked nothing like the world-beater who has won four PGA Tour events in 2013. Seven bogeys later, including three in his first six holes and, fittingly on the last, had Tiger in a tie for 31st and a familiar place of late -- scuffling on the weekend of a major.
The 14-time major champion, who coughed up any chance of breaking his five-year major-less drought, has not had a sub-70 round on Saturday and Sunday of a major since the final round of the 2011 Masters (67). His scoring average on weekends of the big contests last year was almost three strokes higher than in the opening two rounds, according to GolfChannel.com’s Jay Coffin.
He shared the 36-hole lead at last year’s U.S. Open, only to finish with a 5-over 75. His closing-round 73 gave him a week-long total of 7-over and a share of 21st place. He began this Saturday four shots from the top but will start Sunday as just one of the also-rans punching the clock.
Tiger Woods shot 66 in the 2nd round at the 2010 U.S. Open. He is +14 on Saturday in majors since.— Justin Ray (@JRayESPNGolf) June 15, 2013
Tiger Woods has failed to break 70 in his last 11 weekend rounds in a major. Takes himself out of US Open running with 3rd rd 76.— Kelly Tilghman (@KellyTilghmanGC) June 15, 2013
Woods even fell short of his scuffling Nike teammate, Rory McIlroy, who’s still seeking his first win of the year. The two have teed it up a slew of times together but this week marked the first time they were in the same group in a major. Playing even in the opening rounds (73-70), the guys got a bonus round on Saturday, with McIlroy finally getting the better of Woods, albeit by one measly stroke.
While Tiger fans had hopes that he might overcome an elbow injury and triumph as he did on a broken leg at the 2008 Open, NBC's Johnny Miller gave him zero odds of pulling off similar heroics.
"His chances for this U.S. Open are toast," according to Miller (and everyone else, including girlfriend Lindsey Vonn, judging by her furrowed brow as hubby played himself out of contention).
So Woods will surely leave Merion still seeking that elusive 15th major W and look to the British Open at Muirfield in July as his next opportunity to put a dent in Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major victories. It’s a goal for the 37-year-old Woods that grows increasingly less attainable with each passing grand slam event in which he’s outside the winner’s circle.