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Woods has time to reflect

With the British Open five weeks away, he can look at his missed chances at the U.S. Open.

June 19, 2007|Thomas Bonk | Times Staff Writer

OAKMONT, PA. — Some time ago, after Tiger Woods finished second in a tournament, someone consoled him and said he had played well anyway. Woods wasn't buying it.

"Know what second place is?" Woods said.

"First loser."

Even as he stood on the 18th green at Oakmont Country Club on Sunday to take part in a U.S. Open trophy celebration for somebody else, runner-up Woods actually smiled, spoke warmly about new champion Angel Cabrera and acted as if he felt all right about losing by one shot.

Chances are he didn't feel so good about it Monday. Woods, in an unusually candid and reflective mood minutes after he failed in his pursuit of his 13th major championship, said he would analyze all portions of his game to try to figure out what went wrong.

Tiger is going to be kicking himself.

He's not going to remember with fondness the double-bogey six he took at the par-four third hole that put him in a huge hole Sunday.

He's not going to forget the fact that he played 72 holes and had only eight birdies -- one over the final 32 holes. The best player in the world had three birdies on the weekend.

He's also not going to forget that his bunker play was less than average, and it hurt him the most at the 17th Sunday when he could get the ball only to 20 feet of the pin and nestled alongside some rough.

Woods birdied only the third and fourth holes on Saturday, and the fourth again on Sunday. That's not a nice weekend.

He played 72 holes with just one double bogey and only one three-putt and he still fell short.

If he thinks about it, and he will, at least for a while, Woods will wonder what would have happened if he had just been able to get on top and hold the lead by himself, early in the round.

What would the reaction of the other players have been?

Woods said the key series of holes was just after making the turn.

"But 12, 13, 14, right there in that little stretch, I was in position to make at least one of them and walked away with all pars," he said.

When he begins his analysis of Oakmont, Woods can start with the greens, where he seemed psyched out by the breaks and slopes. He was tentative all week, probably to the extreme, and it showed in the final analysis.

Woods tied for 41st in putting, a statistic led by Niclas Fasth, whose final-round 70 moved him into fourth behind Cabrera, Jim Furyk and Woods. Cabrera, known for being a slugger and not a putter, was nevertheless a respectable 28th in putting.

Tiger's eight birdies tied for 27th. Geoff Ogilvy led with 14, and Cabrera was next with 13.

Woods was about midway in fairways hit and led in greens in regulation, but Cabrera was third.

Yet by any measure, statistical or human, Woods knows more than anyone that the standards for him are set higher than anyone else, probably because he's the one raising the bar.

The major clock continues to tick. He hasn't won the Open since 2002, but Woods still remains in select company with five top threes in the U.S. Open. Only seven others have at least that many: Jack Nicklaus with nine, Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan with eight, Gene Sarazen with seven, Arnold Palmer with six, and Sam Snead and Julius Boros with five.

If there's a consolation prize for Woods, it's that the $611,336 he made at Oakmont pushed him over $70 million in career earnings.

What Woods is more likely to remember: It was the 37-year-old Cabrera's first major title in 31 appearances in a major.

Beginning at the Masters, where Zach Johnson won, and now at the U.S. Open with Cabrera, Woods let lesser players pass him and he hasn't closed the deal when he had the chance. He's not playing to his strengths.

He's also not enjoying being first loser.

Carnoustie and the British Open is next, in only five weeks, and Woods will probably play only once in between. With his wife, Elin, giving birth to their first child Monday, the Woods house is starting to fill up, even as the trophy case has a little more unexpected room in it since April.

thomas.bonk@latimes.com

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