Tiger's Eroding Fear Factor

Tiger Woods, Press Conference, AT&T National
Hunter Martin/Getty Images
Tiger Woods is playing his first event since the birth of his daughter.

BETHESDA, Md. — Time magazine's Person of the Year was not a person but a mirror, "The Sopranos" ended without an ending and soon Barry Bonds will become baseball's new home run king. Sort of. But Floyd Landis is most definitely your reigning Tour de France champion, and you'd better believe Tiger Woods owns golf, especially the majors, especially on Sunday.

Welcome to the Age of Ambiguity, where you can pretty much torpedo every ending you thought you knew in advance.

After losing the lead on Sunday at the Masters and the U.S. Open this year, the first two times he'd ever lost after leading on the final day of a major, Woods will try to get back to his winning ways at the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club this week.

"I had my opportunity to get it done, and it just didn't work out," Woods said at his standing-room-only press conference Tuesday. "I thought I played better at the U.S. Open than I did at the Masters. I hit the ball certainly a lot better. I actually putted better but I just kept leaving myself these putts from 15 feet that kept breaking four or five feet, and I just kept — I never got the ball in a spot where I could basically give it a run."

Between diaper changings and feedings at home, where his wife, Elin, is caring for their 2-week-old daughter, Sam Alexis, Woods said he had a moment to look at the tape of Angel Cabrera's victory at Oakmont, specifically his birdies.

"They were all easy leaves," Woods said. "They were all uphill."

Be that as it may, no one, least of all Woods, is used to seeing golf's alpha dog cough up a hairball on Sunday. Notah Begay III, who roomed with Woods and was his fraternity brother at Stanford, had a slightly different explanation. Rather than fault Woods, he credited Zach Johnson and Cabrera for refusing to wilt under pressure.

Woods's recent inability to close has been the source of speculation, much of it centering around his divided attention as he juggles parenthood, hosts a new Tour event this week and designs his first golf course in Dubai. But Begay said Woods's intimidation factor had eroded, the critical blows coming from Cabrera, Johnson and Rich Beem, who beat Woods down the stretch at the 2002 PGA Championship.

"It's like the old four-minute mile marker; once somebody [broke] it, then everybody got it in their mind that they can do it," Begay said. "He's going to have to elevate if he's going to sort of re-instill that fear in everybody."

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