SI Vault
Ivan Maisel
June 25, 2001
When Tiger Woods went down early, the road to the title was wide open. The most likely contenders, though, took a wrong turn
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June 25, 2001


When Tiger Woods went down early, the road to the title was wide open. The most likely contenders, though, took a wrong turn

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Never got it going with the putter (ranked 50th). Toast after three-jacking 1st green in final round




Wild off the tee (56th) in every round but third. Needed 33 putts during seven-over 77 on Sunday




Longest driver by 12 yards took gas at unlucky 13th: three-putted from eight feet on Saturday, from four on Sunday

Here's the history liger Woods was expected to make at Southern Hills: win an unprecedented fifth consecutive major and become only the third man since World War II to successfully defend the U.S. Open title and just the fifth to win the Masters and the Open in the same year. Here's the history he actually made: Like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman before him, all favorites in the previous majors at Southern Hills, Woods not only lost but also failed to contend, tying for 12th at three-over-par 283, seven strokes out of the playoff.

That should have spelled opportunity to the bright lights queued behind Woods since he began his streak at last year's Open. Instead, the big stars—David Duval, Sergio Garc�a and Phil Mickelson—blinked out one by one at Southern Hills, wasting a clear run at a first major victory.

Woods's own history at Southern Hills should have been a tip-off. His father, Earl, suffered a heart attack after the first round of the 1996 Tour Championship, and after spending most of the night in a Tulsa hospital, Tiger shot a 78 and never recovered. He returned last week acting as if nothing could distract him, not even Earl, who overswung on his pre-Open rhetoric and cranked a few metaphors OB.

Of his son's recent play—Tiger had won five of six starts leading up to Tulsa—Earl said, "It's like watching an artist after 10 years of education and practice in his craft. There is a mastery of the stroke, a more subtle blending of the colors. His fellow players can best appreciate what he is accomplishing. A layman looks at a Rembrandt and says, 'Oh, those colors are beautiful.' The curator of a museum sees 20 times the detail, the craft, the beauty."

Back on planet Tiger, Woods the Younger felt primed to repeat. He had recovered from the flu that had wracked his body after the Masters. He had spent a lot of time in Las Vegas with his coach, Butch Harmon, removing the big draws he had needed in Augusta from his game. He had made the requisite scouting trip.

Hours after winning the Memorial on June 3, Woods phoned Southern Hills and asked if he could play a practice round. The club had closed the course five days earlier, but no one says no to Woods. When he returned last week, Woods avoided the public by staying at the home of Keith Bailey, chief executive of the Williams Companies, sponsor of Woods's Silly Season tournament, the Williams World Challenge in Las Vegas. Bailey, whose home is a wedge from Southern Hills, is well regarded in Tulsa for expanding the energy company into a telecommunications leader, for hiring African-American executives and for helping them become members of the club.

Woods said he did nothing different to prepare for this year's Open, save focus a little more on keeping his drives on the short grass. "I feel as if I'm hitting the ball crisp and clean," he said early in the week. All of which may explain the look of mystification on his face last Thursday when his opening tee shot sailed into the right rough. As he missed four of the first five fairways, Woods's body language—grimaces, slumped shoulders, disbelieving eyes—said it all.

Nonetheless, Woods reached the 9th hole only one over par. A par-4 of 374 yards, the 9th's fairway rises to a green that slopes sharply from back to front. Although it ranked as only the ninth-toughest hole (4.19 stroke average) for the week, number 9 slew giants with methods silly and sublime. Duval lost his temper there and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen missed the cut because of run-ins with the rules on the hole (page G28). On Sunday, Mickelson's three-putt bogey from four feet at number 13 caused the loudest gasps, but he said that his bogey at the 9th was the beginning of the end. Likewise for Garc�a, who fell out of the red numbers, and contention, with a double bogey on number 9.

No one in the field, though, played the 9th worse than Woods, who went four over par on the hole. On Thursday he doubled it from the fairway. His approach hit a tree and fell short into a bunker. His third shot went through the green. His fourth ran eight feet past the cup, and he missed the putt. Moments later, when the USGA delayed play because of a thunderstorm, Woods headed for cover, and not only from the lightning.

Woods had little opportunity to knock out the kinks in his swing. The rain forestalled any repair work, and he had to resume play at 7 a.m. on Friday. After finishing a first-round 74—his worst score since an opening 75 in last year's Masters—he had less than an hour's break before starting the second 18, and little had changed. After Tiger holed a five-footer for par at the 11th to remain six over, his caddie, Steve Williams, turned Woods's hat backward, but his man was beyond the help of a rally cap.

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