July 20, 2014

Tiger takes away positives from final round

Tiger Woods didn’t play as well as he wanted, but he took another key step toward regaining the form that helped him win five times last year.

He’s also pain-free.

Those are two of the positives Woods gained from the 143rd Open Championship at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England. He closed with a 3-over 75 on Sunday and wound up carding a 6-over 294 to finish 69th, his worst-ever finish in a major championship. But that showing deserves perspective, as he has now played only six competitive rounds since undergoing back surgery on March 31.

“I got more game time under my belt,” Woods said. “Obviously, there are a lot of things I need to work on. But I haven’t been able to work on a lot, I was down for three months. So I’m just starting to come back.”

Despite a bogey-bogey start on Thursday, Tiger flashed some of his old form by rebounding for a 3-under 69, a round that included a stretch of five birdies in six holes on the back nine. For the most part, the rest of the Open was a struggle for Woods, although he got his total to 3-under through 10 holes on Saturday before finishing with a 5-over 77 for the third round.

“I know how to grind it around these golf courses and play those shots,” he said. “Unfortunately, I made too many mistakes with those doubles and triples.”

Tiger ended the week with three double and two triple bogeys, which isn’t the sort of play you expect from a player who has won 79 PGA TOUR events and 14 major titles — including three Claret Jugs. Officially, Woods three-putted only once, but his putting wasn’t sharp. Neither was his play off the tee, where he hit 66 percent of the fairways (37 of 56) and was shaky with his driver.

Woods will have some time to sharpen his game before his next tournament at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club from July 31 through Aug. 3 in Akron, Ohio, where he has won seven times. His second and last crack at a major comes Aug. 7-10 in the PGA Championship at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky. Tiger has come out victorious at Valhalla Golf Club before, winning the PGA Championship there back in 2000.

As for Sunday, Woods enjoyed playing with current PGA champion Jason Dufner. For the second straight day, Tiger started well by sinking a 15-foot birdie putt on the par-4 first hole. He dropped a shot after missing a 6-foot par putt at the 454-yard, par-4 second — a hole he struggled with all week.

Woods followed with four consecutive pars, then made double-bogey at the 480-yard, par-4 seventh, where he pulled his drive left, popped up his second shot and eventually missed a 7-foot bogey putt.

At the par-4 eighth, Tiger burned the cup with a 15-foot birdie attempt, something he would do several times throughout the round. But the 14-time major winner made a nice birdie at the 196-yard, par-3 ninth, where he missed the green right, but putted up a slope and holed the shot to make the turn in 1-over 36.

Even after a good drive, Tiger failed to birdie the 532-yard, par-5 10th. He hit a 2-iron from 256 yards into the thick grass on the right, dropping his club after impact in frustration, chunked his third shot onto the green and two-putted for a par from long range.

Woods made a sloppy bogey at the 391-yard, par-4 11th. Again, he found the fairway off the tee, but blocked a short iron into the right hay outside the green and was unable to save par.

A poor drive into the left rough from Woods led to a bogey at the 447-yard, par-4 12th. Tiger then flirted with a birdie at the par-3 13th, where his 35-foot putt grazed the hole. Woods also bogeyed the par-4 14th after he hooked his drive way left, came up short with his second shot and failed to convert a 10-foot putt.

Tiger had another near-miss birdie at the 153-yard, par-3 15th, where he rimmed the left edge of the hole from 15 feet. At the 577-yard, par-5 16th, Woods ripped his only driver of the day down the center of the fairway, hitting a nice second shot that rolled past the pin and just over the back of the green. Tiger hit a perfectly-judged pitch shot two feet from the cup for an easy birdie.

After a two-putt par at No. 17 from 25 feet, Woods hit a well-struck 3-wood off the tee at the par-5 18th, pulled his second shot way left into the tall rough, gouged his third shot to about 30 feet past the hole and two-putted for a par.

Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland won the tournament to capture the third major of his career.