Great - Not Grand - Finish For Woods
by Doug Ferguson
GULLANE, Scotland (AP) ? Hat in hand as he walked briskly toward the 18th green at Muirfield, Tiger Woods acknowledged the cheers from an enormous crowd, a scene that has become all too familiar on Sunday in a major championship.
Only it wasn't time for the trophy presentation at the British Open. It was barely even time for lunch.
The silver claret jug wasn't waiting for Woods, only his plane.
Those who came to the links at Muirfield to watch Woods capture the third leg of the Grand Slam had to settle for a great finish, a 6-under 65 that brought him back to even par for the tournament.
For the first time all week, Woods was the leader in the clubhouse at 284 - although Ernie Els was still two hours away from teeing off.
Woods wrote off his chances after an 81 on Saturday, his worst score as a professional, leaving him 11 strokes behind Els with 66 players between them.
Chris Riley made it official when he came in at 283 about an hour after Woods.
"It's gone. I'm finished," Woods said. "I'm going home to put some shorts on and a T-shirt and walk outside."
Woods left Muirfield on a good note and in good spirits.
He hit a wedge into about 3 inches on the fifth hole, and mocked lining up the putt before laughing and tapping it in for birdie. A 2-iron into the par-5 ninth stopped 2 feet from the cup, and Woods held up his hands that far apart.
He made three birdies on the back nine for a 65, 16 strokes better than Saturday.
"My goal was to try to get to even par," Woods said. "If I could do that, it would be a very successful tournament, and it certainly was."
Under the circumstances, it was hard to argue.
Still, what most everyone else will remember about this British Open is that Woods was two strokes out of the lead going into the third round and was humbled by the raging wind and rain so typical of links golf in Scotland.
"If I would have shot this (65) under yesterday's conditions, I would have liked my chances," he said. "Yesterday was just one of those fluke days that you had to throw out. It was just brutal for all of us."
They weren't the worst conditions he ever faced.
Asked the last time he shot 81, Woods recalled going to Royal County Down in Ireland last year while he was preparing for the British Open.
"I was the low round in the group with an 83," he said. "It was brutal. It was blowing about 40, 50 mph. I hit 2-iron from 150 yards and didn't get there."
It wasn't that bad at Muirfield on Saturday, although the rain and the bone-chilling cold only compounded problems he was having with his swing.
"It was so cold," he said. "I didn't have a feel for my swing. I didn't have much of anything."
Woods was the first player since Jack Nicklaus in 1972 to win the first two legs of the Grand Slam - the Masters and the U.S. Open, both by three strokes.
Nicklaus' bid also ended at Muirfield, only that's where the similarities end. Nicklaus was only five strokes behind going into the final round, and led the British Open at one point Sunday afternoon before Lee Trevino chipped in for par on the 17th and beat him by one.
"The frustration and disappointment were more intense than I care to remember even now, a quarter of a century later," Nicklaus wrote in "My Story," his 1997 autobiography.
Woods wasn't so melancholy as he left Muirfield.
He reminded reporters that he already has won the Grand Slam - four straight professional majors, from the 2000 U.S. Open through the 2001 Masters. Critics maintain that a real Grand Slam must be won in the same year.
"I've already accomplished it," he said. "It would have been a different way of doing it."
Woods instead focused on what he has done this year.
"Two (majors) was 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. Any time you can win one major in a year, it's going to be a successful year."
Next up for Woods is the Battle at Bighorn a week from Monday, where he will team with Jack Nicklaus in a best-ball match against Gary Player and Sergio Garcia. Woods likely will play the Buick Open, then it's off to the PGA Championship at Hazeltine.
There won't be any talk about a Grand Slam at Hazeltine, although Woods said he won't look at the PGA Championship any differently.
"It's a major championship," he shrugged. "I'll try to prepare the best I can."
More than anything, he'll try to make sure he gets a late tee time for Sunday afternoon.