He was walking up the 72nd hole reflecting about what might have been.
About those five or 10 shots he wished he could have saved Friday. About his opening 63. About his chance to run off and hide and win his first major championship.
Rory McIlroy knew it would happen. He talked about it Saturday night. One minute he's throwing out a 63 and talking major. The next he's wondering what hit him.
That the 21-year-old fought back to share third at this 139th British Open speaks volumes about what's in front of him. About the next major -- the PGA Championship. About the way he righted a week that could have gone so terribly wrong.
McIlroy started 11 shots behind leader Louis Oosthuizen and wound up eight back. He threw out a closing 68 to go with his 63-80-69 start. He looked ahead, but not before he admitted he looked back.
" You know, if I had just sort of stuck in a little bit more on Friday and held it together more, it could have been a different story,'' McIlroy said. "But the other three rounds I played very, very solidly. After that 80 on Friday, I felt as if I came back well by shooting 7‑under at the weekend.
"You know, the game is there, and I can take a lot of positives out of this week.''
He can also admit more than a disappointment.
" I knew that I had a good chance coming in here, and it was nice to sort of be there for a while,'' said McIlroy who won the Quail Hollow Championship this spring. "You know, yeah, I'm still a bit disappointed to be honest, because I know if I could have played anywhere decent on Friday, I could have been a lot closer to the lead. I'm not saying that I could have got to 17‑under, but I definitely could have been contending for second place anyway.''
He was. But when you open with a 63 . . . . "You fancy your chances going into the next three days,'' he said. "It just so happened to be it got very windy on Friday and I just didn't feel with it very well.''
Would a practice round in that kind of weather have helped? Maybe.
"I probably could have handled it a bit better, but I hadn't played in wind like that for a long time,'' he said. "So it was a bit of a new experience.''
So was joining that elite group of players who have shot 63s at majors. So was reminding the golf world that his share of third place at last year's PGA or the share of 10th at last year's U.S. Open were not just blips.
"I'm sure I'll wake up in the morning and just look at ‑‑ I was 16 under for three rounds of golf around St. Andrews in the Open,'' he said, "and just one bad round. It's fine.''
-- Melanie Hauser
By the time he finally got out of the bunker and walked off the fourth hole with a double bogey, he knew it was over.
No chance. No way. He couldn't even think about shooting a number to pressure Louis Oosthuizen, let alone win make it a three-fer here at St. Andrews.
"I knew the start I needed to get off to,'' said Woods, who closed with a 72 and finished at 3-under. "I was 2‑under through 3, and if I could somehow make 3 on 4 and somehow a birdie or an eagle on 5, that's what could have happened, that's what I felt like. But obviously that didn't happen.''
Nothing much did go right for the man who had won the last two Opens played here at St. Andrews -- by eight shots in 2000 and five in 2005. Oh, he played a solid opening round. Shot 67 and was four back. Putted the fool out of the ball too.
Then the speed disappeared.
He hit the ball better than he has in a long time. He was doing mostly all the right things off the tee and from the fairway.
But suddenly Woods was shoveling the ball along on the green -- as in 126 putts for the week. They were wandering. Circling the lip. Sliding away. Staying out.
He went with the Nike Method the first three rounds, then broke off the relationship to go back to his old Scotty Cameron, the one he used in 13 of his 14 majors.
"Well, I feel satisfaction in the sense that I drove it on a string all week and hit my irons pretty good, but other than the first day, I did not putt well at all.'' he said. "You just can't play and expect to win golf tournaments if you have nine or ten three‑putts for a week. No one can win doing that. Got to clean that up before I tee it up again.''
"It's ironic that as soon as I start driving it on a string, I miss everything,'' he said. "Maybe I should go back to spraying it all over the lot and make everything.''
Two holes pretty much summed up his final round , let alone whole week -- the fourth and seventh. Both double bogeys.
"If I got something going, I would somehow find a way to stop the momentum,'' he said. "That was either like I did today at 4 or making a three‑putt like I did yesterday, and I got it going, birdied 12, hit a good drive yesterday there, and then three‑putt two holes in a row. Basically that's kind of what I did all week.''
Why did he change putters for the final round?
" I just felt that my speed was off,'' he said, "and just going back to something where I know how it comes off.''
Actually, he said, his putting is way off. He wasn't steady over long putts all week. And, he couldn't practice putting because there was no protected area.
"I couldn't feel anchored,'' he said. "Granted, where we're going to be playing from here on in, it's not going to blow like this, so I won't have that problem.''
Tiger struggled with his putter early last year, but it came around. When asked the last time he tinkered with his putting stroke, Tiger said, simply, "Never."
Yet with the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational -- he's won that six out of the last 10 years -- and PGA Championship coming up (he lost a playoff to Y.E. Yang last August), he needs to get in a lot of reps in the next few weeks. As for putters? He declined to say which one was in or out of his bag.
And this Open? No, it doesn't take the sting out to know that Oosthuizen ran away early. Nor that he's missing another opportunity to creep closet to Jack Nicklaus' record 18 majors.
"That's just the way it goes,'' he said ."I'm not going to win all of them. I've lost a lot more than I've won.''
-- Melanie Hauser
U.S. Open champion Graeme McDowell was pleased with the way he played on Sunday -- at least until he got to the 16th and 17th holes. The Northern Irishman was 4 under for the day before he took a combined seven putts on those two holes, including four as he made double bogey on the Road Hole.
"I played beautiful today, I really did," McDowell said. "It's the best I played all week (but I) finished in an ambulance."
McDowell said the stumbling finish essentially summed up his week. Just when he started to get some momentum, he'd give shots back -- and his putter more often than not was the culprit. He ended up using 34 putts on Sunday and 132 for the week.
"Just kind of didn't have it on the greens at all," McDowell said. "Actually tee to green controlled my ball pretty well, chipped it pretty well, I just putted diabolically to be honest with you, kind of unlike me. I normally like this type of green, this kind of linksey green. I normally read them pretty well. ...
"I gave myself enough chances to compete at some level. Obviously Louis (Oosthuizen) is playing fantastic. ... But I felt like I could have competed if I would have putted properly this week. But it's difficult. Obviously I'm not quite myself at the minute as far as getting the head screwed back on."
After a couple of weeks celebrating the career-defining victory at Pebble Beach, McDowell has now played twice. He plans to take next week off, then play in the Irish Open, World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship. He hopes to have that "killer edge" next time he tees it up.
"Just that kind of grind, the dig deep, holing those six- and eight-footers; I think that's probably how it manifests itself," McDowell said. "I tried hard this week to be focused. It's just difficult. I wouldn't change it for the world. I wouldn't change it. It's been tough, you know, and I mean, I got tired yesterday. I bogeyed 12 and 13, and the crowds kind of all disappeared, and the whole atmosphere went flat and I went flat and I didn't finish great last night. I felt very tired and very exhausted last night.
"I felt good today, kind of a bit more bounce in my step. I've been sleeping like a log this week and waking up feeling like I could sleep all day, that kind of feeling. But no complaints, like I say. I had my chances this weekend. Yesterday was a big day and I didn't do the job, and like I say, the putter was a little cold. I obviously wore it out at Pebble."
All in all, McDowell, who joined the PGA TOUR last week, said that Cloud Nine has dropped down about five notches. Maybe that's what he needs to get back to the business of contending again.
"There's definitely been a sense of coming down this week," McDowell said. "Obviously there's going to be a new major champion this evening that's going to take the focus off me a little bit, and there's definitely going to be that little bit of coming down, which is good. I need to. I need to reset, rest up this week and get ready for a big three weeks, and then get ready for a big end of the season. I'm looking forward to it. Looking forward to it."
McDowell is also looking forward to playing in his second Ryder Cup in October at Celtic Manor in Wales. He’d like nothing better than to have a match with his good friend Rory McIlroy, who tied the major championship record with a first-round 63 at the Old Course, followed with an 82 and still managed to get back into the top five.
"I think we're going to have a magnificent team, and it's great to be part of," McDowell said. "It was one of my goals this summer. I wanted to have a big summer to try to get myself on the team, and probably one of any favorite spinoffs from winning the U.S. Open is being on the Ryder Cup team." – Helen Ross
Louis Oosthuizen currently owns an eight-stroke lead with six holes remaining in the 139th British Open. As massive as that seems, the 27-year-old South African needs to go a little to match the largest margin which is the 13 strokes Tom Morris Sr. won by in 1862 at Prestwick.
Here’s a look at some of the others:
|13 strokes||Tom Morris Sr.||1862|
|12 strokes||Tom Morris Jr.||1870|
|11 strokes||Tom Morris Jr.||1869|
|8 strokes||J.H. Taylor||1900, 1913|
|8 strokes||James Braid||1908|
|8 strokes||Tiger Woods||2000|
Just when it appeared Louis Oosthuizen might be starting to crack, he drove the ninth green and rolled in a long bomb for an eagle that lifted him to 16 under. Casey drove the green, too, and two-putted for birdie but he went to the homeward nine trailing by four.
Oosthuizen has an eight-stroke advantage over Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer who are tied for third. Shoot, Casey is even four strokes ahead of them.
Can you say match play? – Helen Ross
Jeff Overton continued his strong play of late with a 3-under 69 on Sunday to finish the British Open at 5-under 283.
Heading into the week, Overton had four top-3 finishes in his last eight starts, including runner-up finishes at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans and the HP Byron Nelson Championship and third-place finishes at the Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial and the AT&T National.
This week represented Overton’s fourth start in a major championship. His best finish prior to Sunday was a tie for 13th at the 2009 British Open. He also tied for 32nd at the 2009 PGA and 70th at the British Open in 2008. – John Bush
Colin Montgomerie may have shot 62 to qualify for the British Open, but he certainly wasn’t happy with his performance at the Old Course this week. The man who finished second at St. Andrews in 2005 only broke par once in four rounds and finished a disappointing 4 over.
“It’s not happening on the course right now,” Monty said. “I’m not firing on any cylinders at all. I need to be firing on all eight if I’m to contend and I’m not doing that right now, unfortunately.”
That said, the European Ryder Cup captain couldn’t be happier when he looked at the leaderboard. Five of the top six players – Paul Casey, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Rory McIlroy --when Montgomerie finished off his round are potential members of his team for the matches in October in Wales.
Of that group, Casey, Kaymer and Stenson have yet to qualify either off the world points list or the European points list. Four players qualify off the world list and five from the European, then Montgomerie gets three Captain’s Picks.
“I need a few to do me proud,” Monty said. “I don’t want to have to waste picks on world stars like Paul Casey, for instance, and he can seal his spot right now. He’s probably not thinking about the Ryder Cup now, he’s thinking about trying to win the British Open. But at the same time, I am. …
“It’s a big, big day for a lot of these guys just on the fringe.”
Montgomerie said he actually was doing the math Saturday night, trying to see where Casey would end up if he finished second on Sunday. And if Casey did crack the top nine automatic qualifiers, who would be knocked out –- and would that cause another dilemma for Montgomerie as he pondered his picks?
“Of course I’ve got some headaches, but I’ve also got some good headaches,” the captain said. “I can pick two teams here that can beat each other on any given day. That’s the strength and the depth of European golf, especially this year.
“We’ve had our first British winner of the U.S. Open for 40 years, Lee Westwood almost won the Masters, we’re contending here again and who says we won’t do it at the U.S. PGA in a month’s time? Justin Rose winning twice in America – it’s been a fabulous year for British golf.
“In any form of business, and this is one, if standards rise, the competition has to follow suit, which is great for me.” – Helen Ross