Tiger Woods slam bid ends at the first hurdle
The only way Tiger Woods gets a Grand Slam this year is by stopping off at Denny’s.
For the third year in a row, he knew how all those guys who chased him down the stretch of all those other majors felt: desperate leaving the first tee, frustrated when none of the gambles paid off, and, finally, beaten.
Woods walked off Augusta National on Sunday after an even-par 72 and went directly into the clubhouse, up a winding staircase and into the refuge of the champions locker room. A moment later, a Masters official scurried out carrying four freshly pressed green jackets on hangers, one of which was going to be draped across the shoulders of Trevor Immelman. Woods stayed there until after the South African’s par putt fell on No. 18, officially ending his own quest to sweep the season’s four majors, something Tiger said was “easily within reach” just two months ago.
When someone asked whether losing the first one would affect the rest of his season, Woods smiled more broadly than he had all day.
“I got three more,” he said.
True enough. But there’s still a glaring hole in his resume. Despite cutting Immelman’s lead in half—from six strokes to three—Woods still could not win a big one coming from behind.
He put himself into a king-sized divot from the outset by failing to make putts and birdies at the par-5s, which used to be his bread and butter at the Masters. For the week, he was just 4-under on the par-5s and ranked 21st in putting. In that sense, the final round was a snapshot of why he leaves here empty-handed.
“You’ve just got to play them under par each day,” he said, but this is how he played them Sunday:
At No. 2, with the wind at his back, Woods tried to reach the green in two after laying up the three previous days. He came up a yard short. At No. 8, he put his second shot over a hill at the back of the green and couldn’t get up and down. At No. 13, he made a great recovery after a drive that skittered onto the pine straw on the right side of the fairway, then stuck a wedge from 97 yards to 4 feet—and missed. At No. 15, he hit his second long and well right of the green and failed to get up and down.
“We figured if we shot something in the 60s,” Woods said, “we’re going to be right there with a chance to win, so we tried to put a lot of pressure on Trevor up there.
“It turns out that would have been the case,” he added. “But I didn’t do my part.”
That seemed almost unthinkable at the start of the season, and perhaps even dating back to last August, when he took off on another of those sublime runs, arriving here having won eight of his last 10 starts. But this isn’t the same Augusta National that Woods scorched four times, shooting an average score of 14 1/2 under par.
Masters officials may not have “Tiger-proofed” their golf course by adding length and trees and expanding the bunkers, but they forced Woods to play the percentages like everybody else, and drew the rest of the field closer in the bargain. Immelman’s margin of victory was the same number of strokes by which he beat Woods on the par-5s.
In Tiger’s first year here as a professional, his raw power was not just intimidating; it translated into a huge advantage. He never needed more than a 4-iron for his second shot into No. 2 and hit wedges on his approaches into No. 15. The first three days here, he didn’t even try to hit No. 2 in two shots and used a fairway wood for his second to lay up short of the greenside bunkers.
Woods laid the blame for his failure to make more birdies on his putting.
“I’ve tried to release it, tried to get it going and tried to hook my putts, tried to do anything to get the thing rolling properly. I just didn’t quite have it this week.”
What Woods did have was the burden of outsized expectation, something that was evident as soon as he started overpowering all those regular-sized layouts on the PGA Tour and Europe. Some people actually thought he could win every time out, but that was no more realistic than winning the Grand Slam. In any shootout where birdies are the target, Woods is the last guy you would bet against. When par is at a premium, the way it is at the majors because of course setups, he’s still the favorite, but the odds shrink considerably.
“I’m a little hungry right now,” Woods said, and soon after, headed off toward the clubhouse in search of something to eat.
The clubhouse loomed large in the distance. There wasn’t a Denny’s anywhere in sight.