He had been 14 for 14 going into the final round of a major with at least a share of the lead but when Tiger Woods struggled today, primarily on the greens and in his inability to hit an effective left to right cut shot on several occasions, and Y. E. Yang shot a two under par 70 in the final pairing with Tiger, the amazing Woods streak came to a crashing end. Tiger, who started the day at 8 under par and had a two shot lead, would shoot an un-Tiger like final round 75 and finish second at Hazeltine National in Chaska, Minnesota.
Many will say that Yang stepped up and won this major on his own with his great eagle chip in on the short par 4, 14th hole and the unbelievable 3 hybrid he knocked from 200+ yards out over the trees to roughly 8 feet on the 18th green with the outcome still very much in doubt (Woods was only one down and in a much better position in the fairway on 18). Yang certainly hit his share of good shots and put himself in contention to win.
However, this was a tournament that Tiger should have won easily, especially when he was faced with an easy up and down on the 18th hole on Friday that would have put him at 8 under and given him a five shot lead after 36 holes. Instead, Tiger uncharacteristically bumped a 6 iron chip 10 feet past the hole and narrowly missed the put coming back (this would be a common theme for Woods on the greens on the weekend). Woods still had a four shot lead and would quickly extend that to five shots after two holes on Saturday. At that point it looked like the 2009 PGA Championship surely would go the way of Pebble Beach 2000, a Woods runaway, with Tiger seemingly in excellent control of his game. But something happened to Mr. Invincible starting on the 4th green on Saturday that would give everyone else hope and put some doubts into the head of a man who rarely experiences that and one who seems to always hit the clutch putt when needed.
Tiger hit the 4th green on his approach shot to about 20 feet and was faced with a downhill slider to the right. The first putt Woods struck was not too bad and he had only 3 feet left for par, but the man who could not miss from inside 5 feet at the WGC at Firestone the week before had his putt hit the hole and spin out. After that three putt, I don’t think Tiger ever felt comfortable on the greens the rest of the way and the only other birdie he made the remainder of the third round was by chipping in on the 14th hole. In fact, Tiger hit a brilliant shot into the 18th green on Saturday and missed to the left on a putt of about 8 feet that would have given him a three shot lead heading into Sunday.
Still, despite the missed opportunities on Saturday to extend his lead I was still pretty sure Woods would make it 15 for 15 on Sunday, especially given that Yang had never won a major championship and Tiger seemed to have the number of his other closest pursuer, Padraig Harrington. Harrington would hang around until the 8th hole on Sunday where he made a snowman, this time on a par 3, for the second straight week while in contention in the final round.
On the first hole of the fourth round I was still confident in Tiger running away and winning, especially after he hit a brilliant shot to about 7 feet from the flag. How many times have we then seen Woods bury a putt like that and send a message to all pursuers that the trophy was going to be his again? Surprisingly, though, he missed left on the putt, in what looked to be a good stroke and thus was a mis-read. In fact, several times on Sunday Tiger seemed perplexed by the greens and it appeared he hit what he thought were good putts but they were not going in (his jestures continually were pointing out the line he thought the ball would travel after it missed, and most of the time he thought there would be more left to right break).
As anyone who plays the crazy game of golf knows, once you start missing putts you putt pressure on the rest of your game. Often the result is several bad shots and a bad round. But Tiger didn’t hit a lot of bad shots on Sunday, although commentators Nick Faldo and David Feherty kept saying that Woods was trying to hit left to right cut shots into hole locations but was unable to execute them. So clearly the game wasn’t totally right and he continually struggled with the wind often hitting the wrong club into greens (see #12 and #17). About the worst shot Tiger hit was on the par 5 15th where he had a good chance to put the ball on the green in two but he pretty much “fanned” his fairway wood attempt leaving it 70 or so yards short. Woods still wedged it to within 10 feet on 15 and had a chance to tie Yang at 8 under but once again missed the putt left (this looked like another mis-read).
Even still, after Yang left his first putt on the 17th green about six feet short I thought Tiger would seize the opportunity and bury his 10 footer for par to put the heat on the South Korean. But Tiger missed left again and CBS had some great footage of Tiger chewing himself out. Tiger almost never misses those pressure putts, he is the greatest clutch putter of all time (remember the 10 footer for par on #17 against Sergio Garcia in the 1999 PGA Championship?), if you ask me, but today he just couldn’t get the ball to drop.
So Tiger, after major knee surgery last summer, has won 5 times so far in 2009 but he will not win a single major. I have to think in Woods’ mind, because of no major wins, that he considers this an underachieving season. He still trails Jack Nicklaus by 4 majors and Tiger will only turn 34 this December so that record is still easily within his reach, if he stays healthy. But today we saw something that we have never seen before – Woods let a major that was his for the taking get away. Many say it was due to happen some day, but given how driven and mentally tough Tiger is, I didn’t think this weekend would be when he failed to close the deal. But as Drew alluded to in his blog, something isn’t right, and Hank Haney (Tiger’s coach) could be in trouble, although Haney wasn’t the one reading the greens and hitting putts on the weekend. I wouldn’t want to be on that plane ride home with Tiger tonight and I don’t think he will be a happy camper for awhile after giving away what should have been a record tying 5th PGA Championship and the 15th major of his career. Oh, and I don’t think any Fed Ex Cup victories or even the Fed Ex Cup title will make Tiger feel better about his season, so sorry Tim Finchem. Nope, Tiger will be in a less than happy mood until next April at Augusta, when he finally will get a chance to put this major failure behind him.