HOYLAKE, England -- The sad saga of Tiger Woods at this British Open ended Sunday with a 5-foot putt for par on the 18th hole.
In his prime, the only question for him on a hole like that would have been whether he made his eagle putt. Now, he had shot three-over-par 75 for a six-over-par 294 total and was startlingly near the bottom of the leaderboard in an event in which he had never before finished out of the top 30.
It was more than an hour before the last group of Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, a couple of 25-year-olds, would tee off. While millions watched them battle for the Claret Jug, the 38-year-old Woods probably would be on his way back to the States.
He shook hands with playing partner Jason Dufner and was gone. The next major sighting will be at the PGA Championship in Louisville, Ky., on Aug. 7-10. If recent history is an indication, he will arrive, speak of feeling even better after his March 31 back surgery and assure everyone he is there to win.
If he does, there will be much celebration that "Tiger is back." Despite his wayward flounderings in his personal life and his inability to win a major since the U.S. Open in 2008, his legion of fans remains army-sized.
If he doesn't win at Valhalla in August -- and especially if he plays poorly in his second straight major -- the attention will not turn to the next major, the 2015 Masters, as much as it will turn to the Ryder Cup in Scotland in October.
Entering the British Open, the injury-plagued Woods ranked 72nd on the U.S. Ryder Cup list. Had he won here, he would have moved to No. 9.
The Ryder Cup captain is Tom Watson. His U.S. team will be 12 players, with the first nine based on a points system and the next three of his choice. Watson played here last week, and, at 64 and a five-time British champion, distinguished himself admirably. He finished with a four-under 68 for 289, just one over par and five shots better than Woods.
Maybe he should pick himself.
WOODS AS A PUNCH LINE
Woods has become fodder for snarky one-liners from some members of the British media. Martin Johnson of the Sunday Times had these two gems:
--"When Woods plucks the driver from his bag, it's as strong a case for sounding the safety siren as an approaching electrical storm."
--"It's a bit of a mystery why so many people fork out 75 pounds to come to the Open and then opt to spend most of their day following Woods. It's a bit like going to a football match and sitting directly behind a floodlight pylon."
MCILROY VICTORY WILL PAY OFF
Reports here say that a Rory McIlroy victory will enrich the McIlroy family and some friends in more ways than one. If the reports are true, a bet that McIlroy's father, Gerry, made 10 years ago will now be worth 100,000 pounds, or about $185,000.
Gerry and three friends each reportedly put 100 pounds down, at 500-1 odds, that the then 15-year-old Rory would win the British Open before his 26th birthday. He will turn 26 on May 4 of next year, so Hoylake was the last chance to collect on the bet.
British fans have embraced McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, so unconditionally that one wonders whether they have forgotten his recent Olympic proclamation. When golf returns to the Games in 2016, McIlroy has committed to play for Ireland, not the United Kingdom, of which Northern Ireland is a part.
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