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Smoked When Tiger Woods went down early, the road to the title was wide open. The most likely contenders, though, took a wrong turn

Here's the history Tiger Woods was expected to make at Southern
Hills: win an unprecedented fifth consecutive major and become
only the third man since World War II to successfully defend the
U.S. Open title and just the fifth to win the Masters and the
Open in the same year. Here's the history he actually made: Like
Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson and Greg Norman before
him, all favorites in the previous majors at Southern Hills,
Woods not only lost but also failed to contend, tying for 12th at
three-over-par 283, seven strokes out of the playoff.

That should have spelled opportunity to the bright lights queued
behind Woods since he began his streak at last year's Open.
Instead, the big stars--David Duval, Sergio Garcia and Phil
Mickelson--blinked out one by one at Southern Hills, wasting a
clear run at a first major victory.

Woods's own history at Southern Hills should have been a tip-off.
His father, Earl, suffered a heart attack after the first round
of the 1996 Tour Championship, and after spending most of the
night in a Tulsa hospital, Tiger shot a 78 and never recovered.
He returned last week acting as if nothing could distract him,
not even Earl, who overswung on his pre-Open rhetoric and cranked
a few metaphors OB.

Of his son's recent play--Tiger had won five of six starts leading
up to Tulsa--Earl said, "It's like watching an artist after 10
years of education and practice in his craft. There is a mastery
of the stroke, a more subtle blending of the colors. His fellow
players can best appreciate what he is accomplishing. A layman
looks at a Rembrandt and says, 'Oh, those colors are beautiful.'
The curator of a museum sees 20 times the detail, the craft, the

Back on planet Tiger, Woods the Younger felt primed to repeat. He
had recovered from the flu that had wracked his body after the
Masters. He had spent a lot of time in Las Vegas with his coach,
Butch Harmon, removing the big draws he had needed in Augusta
from his game. He had made the requisite scouting trip.

Hours after winning the Memorial on June 3, Woods phoned Southern
Hills and asked if he could play a practice round. The club had
closed the course five days earlier, but no one says no to Woods.
When he returned last week, Woods avoided the public by staying
at the home of Keith Bailey, chief executive of the Williams
Companies, sponsor of Woods's Silly Season tournament, the
Williams World Challenge in Las Vegas. Bailey, whose home is a
wedge from Southern Hills, is well regarded in Tulsa for
expanding the energy company into a telecommunications leader,
for hiring African-American executives and for helping them
become members of the club.

Woods said he did nothing different to prepare for this year's
Open, save focus a little more on keeping his drives on the short
grass. "I feel as if I'm hitting the ball crisp and clean," he
said early in the week. All of which may explain the look of
mystification on his face last Thursday when his opening tee shot
sailed into the right rough. As he missed four of the first five
fairways, Woods's body language--grimaces, slumped shoulders,
disbelieving eyes--said it all.

Nonetheless, Woods reached the 9th hole only one over par. A
par-4 of 374 yards, the 9th's fairway rises to a green that
slopes sharply from back to front. Although it ranked as only
the ninth-toughest hole (4.19 stroke average) for the week,
number 9 slew giants with methods silly and sublime. Duval lost
his temper there and two-time U.S. Open champion Lee Janzen
missed the cut because of run-ins with the rules on the hole
(page G28). On Sunday, Mickelson's three-putt bogey from four
feet at number 13 caused the loudest gasps, but he said that his
bogey at the 9th was the beginning of the end. Likewise for
Garcia, who fell out of the red numbers, and contention, with a
double bogey on number 9.

No one in the field, though, played the 9th worse than Woods, who
went four over par on the hole. On Thursday he doubled it from
the fairway. His approach hit a tree and fell short into a
bunker. His third shot went through the green. His fourth ran
eight feet past the cup, and he missed the putt. Moments later,
when the USGA delayed play because of a thunderstorm, Woods
headed for cover, and not only from the lightning.

Woods had little opportunity to knock out the kinks in his swing.
The rain forestalled any repair work, and he had to resume play
at 7 a.m. on Friday. After finishing a first-round 74--his worst
score since an opening 75 in last year's Masters--he had less than
an hour's break before starting the second 18, and little had
changed. After Tiger holed a five-footer for par at the 11th to
remain six over, his caddie, Steve Williams, turned Woods's hat
backward, but his man was beyond the help of a rally cap.

On the par-5 13th he mishit his tee shot, digging his three-wood
into the turf behind the ball and prompting playing partner Jeff
Quinney, the U.S. Amateur champion, to say, "Wow! I didn't know
he had that shot." Even Woods chuckled at the wounded duck. "If
you can't laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?"

When Woods finished the second round with a 71, he had matched
his 2001 total of over-par rounds and stood nine shots and 40
bodies behind the leaders. "His problems are minor, but they cost
him," Harmon said.

Still, the leaders had hardly ruled out a Tiger charge. "If I can
shoot 64," Mark Brooks said, referring to his Friday round, "he
can shoot 60." Woods laid down a pair of 69s on the weekend,
scores beaten only by the 72-64 of Tom Kite, but never got closer
to the lead than seven shots. "Every blue moon," said Rocco
Mediate, who finished fourth, two shots out of the playoff,
"Tiger becomes human."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY ROBERT BECK Stray cat Early in the week Woods said all systems were go, but then he had trouble keeping his tee shots on the short grass.



Star(tling) Failures

TIGER WOODS sounded like a broken record as he repeated the
reasons for his so-so play: Swing was a little off...the putts
weren't dropping...didn't get the breaks...can't win 'em all. He
could just as easily have added the Lennon-McCartney lyric,
"Number 9...number 9...number 9...number 9." The players thought
to be Woods's top challengers, however, failed to take advantage
of his absence from the leader board. Here's where (from left)
Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and David Duval went wrong.


Duval 7th 16th Never got it going with the putter (ranked
50th). Toast after three-jacking 1st green in
final round

Garcia 3rd 12th Wild off the tee (56th) in every round but
third. Needed 33 putts during seven-over 77 on

Mickelson 6th 7th Longest driver by 12 yards took gas at unlucky
13th: three-putted from eight feet on
Saturday, from four on Sunday