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U.S. Open: Tiger needs Open miracle

By Tim Dahlberg
Associated Press
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. ó There are things that even the great Tiger Woods can’t control.
Rain, for one, but he’s not alone. Had the USGA known what a mess the heavens would make of this U.S. Open, it would have taken the millions it put into Bethpage Black and used it to build a course somewhere in the Mojave desert.
Then again, had the USGA known that putting Woods in the opening pairings Thursday morning would have caused such havoc on the leaderboard, it surely would have moved him to the afternoon where he would have the proper conditions to defend his title. As great as he may be, even Woods isn’t nearly that interesting when he’s 11 shots out of the lead and everyone from Phil Mickelson to Rocco Mediate is bunched somewhere in between.
That doesn’t mean NBC won’t find a way to show him every five minutes Sunday as the Open marathon hopefully draws to a close. Who knows, Woods may even get more airtime than Al Roker, who made his way up to Bethpage on Saturday to drone on incessantly about weather but was mysteriously missing by the time rain finally came.
What it does mean is that Woods won’t be jetting home with any new hardware from this Open. He’s too far back, there are too many people in front of him, and, as great as he is, he’s never come from behind on Sunday to win a major championship.
Bethpage is also playing way too easy so, even if the remaining field wanted to collapse at the sound of Woods’ gallery, they would have to find some new and imaginative ways to do so.
This, of course, was supposed to be the week Woods made a triumphant return to the site of his 2002 Open win and edged closer to Jack Nicklaus with his 15th major championship. With his knee finally healed and his drives finally finding the fairways, there seemed little the other 155 players could do but watch in awe.
Nicklaus himself predicted it would happen after Woods made birdies on the final two holes two weeks ago to win the Memorial.
“If he drives the ball this way, and plays this way, I’m sure it will,” Nicklaus said. “And if not, it will surprise me greatly.”
Nicklaus isn’t the only one surprised. Woods arrived here Monday in full swagger, confident in his swing and eager to add to a collection of major trophies second only to the 18 won by Nicklaus.
Oddsmakers made him a prohibitive favorite. His fellow players fell all over themselves deferring to his greatness.
Then the rain came.
Blame the pairings and the weather for some of that. There hasn’t been a major championship in recent memory where one group of players got such an advantage over another.
But Woods didn’t himself any favors, either. He was plugging along OK in the rain and mud of the first round before collapsing with two bogeys and a double bogey over the last four holes.
Playing partner Padraig Harrington said Woods was hitting the ball better than he was when they played together earlier this year at Bay Hill, and his distance control was as superb as ever. But the short game was missing in action on greens slowed by heavy downpours.
“The worst part of his last two days was his chipping and putting, which is always his strength,” Harrington said.
Woods didn’t seem terribly distressed by it all, which by itself is unusual for him in a major championship. Maybe he just figures that history will record this Open as one the weather gods simply refused to let him have.
Barring some miracle, he’ll leave New York still stuck at 14 major titles and be without a major in his possession for the first time in four years. He’s still relatively young at 33, but each year that goes by without winning one of the big four will make it more difficult for him to accomplish the ultimate goal of his remarkable career, which is to win more majors than Nicklaus.
Woods said earlier this week that Nicklaus was still the greatest player of all time for that reason alone.
“He’s got 18,” Woods said. “I’m at 14.”
That’s the way Woods keeps score. And that’s why, for him, this Open will almost certainly be tallied up as a big fat zero.

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