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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Woods’ comeback fell short

Tim Dahlberg Associated Press

PINEHURST, N.C. – The birdie putt dropped from 5 feet, Tiger Woods pumped his fist in excitement, and the roars echoed through the tall Carolina pines.

Deep into the back nine on Sunday, the U.S. Open was finally on.

Woods stalked to the 16th tee, just two shots behind Michael Campbell. Everyone else had fallen back, and now it was a two-man duel between the greatest player of his time and a journeyman who had never lived up to his potential.

The massive gallery cheered wildly as Woods made his way to the tee. History was in the making, a 10th major championship for Woods and a chance at the Grand Slam – or was it?

What the crowd got was an anticlimactic ending that did nothing to add to Woods’ legend.

The club that bedeviled Woods all week long cost him dearly when he missed putts on the 16th and 17th holes to see his unlikely bid for a third Open title fail and see an even more unlikely champion crowned.

Down eight shots at one point on the front nine, Woods made a game of it with Campbell while the rest of the field slid backward. But by the time he coaxed a final birdie putt into the cup on the 18th hole, it was too late.

“I just didn’t putt well,” Woods said. “I played well today, but I just didn’t putt well. I couldn’t get the feel of the pace of the greens.”

Woods, who began the day on a bad note by making bogeys on the first two holes, came roaring back with the birdies he couldn’t make all week in front of an excited crowd just waiting for something to happen in an Open no one seemed able to take.

After making just six birdies while playing defensively in his first 57 holes, Woods let loose and made six in his last 15, including four on the back nine after Campbell played his way into the lead.

Woods was trying desperately to get to even par, which he figured might be good enough to win. It was, but it was Campbell who finished with the score, not Woods.

“I’m sure people didn’t give me a chance to win the tournament after my start,” Woods said. “I figured I could get back to even and see what happens on the back nine.”

What happened could have been the kind of finish legends are made of. Woods has had them before, and for a few holes it seemed like he might have one again.

He had talked the day before about knowing how to win under the ultimate pressure test in golf, and how he knew how to be calm when it counted the most. All he had to do was catch a player who had no experience with this kind of thing, the kind of player Woods had stared down many times before.

You don’t intimidate other players with bogeys, though. And the two Woods made on the 16th and 17th holes cost him any chance.

“I just wanted to hang in there and stay patient,” said Woods, whose round of 69 was his only under-par round of the Open. “In hindsight we all know even-par would be in a playoff.”

Woods was 4-over at the turn, but made a birdie putt on the 10th hole and then another on the 11th after stiffing an iron to 4 feet. He then made three straight pars, missing birdie putts on 13 and 14, before hitting a beautiful iron shot to 5 feet on the par-3 15th.

When the putt went in, Woods punched the air with his first, a declaration that the game was on and a warning to Campbell that he was in the chase.

“I knew Tiger was coming after me,” Campbell said.

Woods, who has never won a major from behind in the final round, promptly hit his drive into the rough on the next hole, then recovered with an iron shot in front of the green. He chipped up poorly, though, and missed an 8-footer to fall three behind.

Woods ended up with 28 putts, eight less than a day earlier. But the putter cost him dearly when it most mattered, just as it had the entire week.

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