CHASKA, Minn. (AP) — His bid for a 15th major championship vanquished, Tiger Woods stood on the 18th green at Hazeltine National on Sunday holding his putter in his hands and staring in disbelief.
Fourteen times he had started the Sunday of a major with the lead. Fourteen times he brought the trophy home. Of all the ways for that remarkable streak to come to an end, death by putter had to be the most improbable.
Long known for nailing clutch putts on the biggest of stages, Woods missed seven inside of 10 feet at the PGA Championship on Sunday to let a two-shot lead slip away to first-time major winner Y.E. Yang.
“I made absolutely nothing,” said Woods, who had 33 putts in the round – his highest total of the week. “I just have to say, terrible day on the greens. And I had it at the wrong time.”
Woods started the day with a two-shot lead over Yang and Padraig Harrington, and his reputation as the game’s greatest closer had many treating the early portion of the round as a coronation.
But Yang proved to be tougher and more focused than anyone imagined, never wilting under Tiger’s glare and forcing him to do more than just intimidate to win.
For the first time in his major career, Woods wasn’t up to the task.
Tied at the turn, Woods missed makable putts on Nos. 10, 13 and 17 as Yang surged to the front. Woods could never answer, shooting a 3-over 75 to finish at 5 under, three strokes behind Yang.
“I hit the ball great off the tee, hit my irons well,” Woods said. “I did everything I needed to do except for getting the ball in the hole.”
It was a startling failure for a player who has earned his reputation as the best in the world on the greens. He has so many memorable putts in his career, including a 30-footer to beat Bob May at Valhalla in the 2000 PGA Championship and a 12-footer on the final hole of the U.S. Open to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate last year.
“I played well enough to win today,” Woods said. “And the frustrating thing is I didn’t make any putts and that’s something I’ve been doing over the last three weeks. I’ve been putting pretty good.”
Woods stormed into the final major of the season on the strength of consecutive victories at the Buick Open and Firestone. His sharp play continued on the first two days at Hazeltine, putting him at 8 under and giving this the feeling that his 15th major title was a foregone conclusion.
He played things more conservatively on Saturday, content to make pars and hold the lead. But he couldn’t finish things off against Yang, who turned the tide in Tiger-like fashion by sinking an 8-foot putt on No. 13 and holing out from 60 feet on No. 14.
Woods still had a few chances to get back into a tie on the last two holes, but the shots, and in particular the putts, just never came through.
The South Korean gave Woods one more chance with a bogey at No. 17, but Woods missed an 8-foot putt that would have moved him into a tie heading to the final hole.
No one was more surprised than Yang, who was playing with Woods for the first time but was already well-versed in Tiger lore.
“I’ve seen through the highlights while playing in the same tournaments that Tiger makes some miraculous shots and miraculous putts,” Yang said. “I’ve seen it throughout his career, and I’ve admired him and respected him.”
But never feared him.
With Woods unable to gain momentum and get the crowd roaring with one of his signature big putts, Yang never looked rattled through the entire round, even when he was spraying shots into the trees or the crowd.
His flat stick flailing, Woods never was able to take advantage.
“I was in control of the tournament for most of the day,” Woods said. “I was playing well, hitting the ball well. I was making nothing.”