Now that Tiger Woods is not invincible, he's even more awe inspiring

Now that Tiger Woods is not invincible, he’s even more awe inspiring

"I did everything I needed to do except for getting the ball in the hole," Woods said.
John Biever/SI

CHASKA, Minn. — Phil Mickelson holed a 205-yard 5-iron for eagle on the first hole and still shot 76.

Padraig Harrington came close enough to the trophy to fog it up with his breath until he barfed up an 8. Again.

And, oh, yeah, Tiger Woods blew a major.

Yep, you read that right. Woods lost a two-shot lead at the 91st PGA Championship at Hazeltine National Golf Club to a 37-year-old South Korean named Y.E. Yang (Y.E. not?), who shot a two-under-par 70 to Tiger's ragged 75.


And here's the funny thing: It's the best possible thing that could have happened to Woods.

We now appreciate all the more the 14 major championship victories, the 70 PGA Tour wins. You know how hard it is to win one major, let alone 14? You do now, courtesy of Tiger's lost weekend, which included 33 putts Sunday.

Tom Watson was asked at the British Open last month: If he went on to win the tournament, would that be the greatest golf achievement ever? Watson didn't hesitate. The greatest golf achievement, he said, was Tiger Woods winning the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots. Next question, please.

But we didn't appreciate that then. We took Tiger Woods for granted. We were so sure he was going to win this PGA that a U.K. bookmaker, Paddy Power, said it mistakenly paid out $2.1 million to Tiger-backers before he'd even teed off Saturday.

We started to think he was a machine, and we declared it so.

"Cut him open and I'll tell you what you'll find," Rocco Mediate said of the man who beat him in a playoff at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, despite playing on a broken leg. "A bunch of wires and levers, and a big heart."

Um, no, you won't. Woods bleeds, and he bogeys.

On Sunday, he yanked his tee shot into a greenside bunker on the par-3 eighth and couldn't get up and down for par. He hit 3-wood for safety smack into a canopy of tree branches on 10. And, reeling from Yang's chip-in for eagle at the drivable par-4 14th hole, he chunked a 5-wood from the middle of the 15th fairway.

After Woods bogeyed the last two holes to lose to Yang by three shots, he met with the media and blamed his faulty putting, then went to the parking lot and hugged his wife, Elin, who handed over their 7-month-old son, Charlie. After a lengthy car-seat transfer from Elin's courtesey Mercedes into Tiger's Buick, Team Tiger's motorcade left Hazeltine.

No truth to the rumor that their headlights were on.

A large crowd watched from a barricade by the parking lot, stunned at what had transpired over the final nine. Yang: 34. Woods: 37. It was as if we were waiting for Tiger to lean out the driver's side window and yelp, "Just kidding!"

Yang shocks Woods! It reads like a headline from The Onion. But the real surprise is that it didn't happen sooner, Woods giving up a major championship he seemed to have seized with one incisor.

The human frailty only makes you appreciate the greatness. And here's another bright side: No longer will Woods have to answer questions about being 14-for-14 at closing out majors when he holds or shares the 54-hole lead, or eight-for-eight when he holds the 36-hole lead. It's now 14-for-15, eight-for-nine.

The streak is over, and the pressure is off. It's okay to sit next to Woods on the bench again; he's no longer pitching a no-hitter.

Ask Mickelson, Greg Norman, Watson or even Jack Nicklaus how hard it is to bring it home in a major 14 times in a row.

Ask Woods, who could tell you about the gust on the 17th hole that carried his ball over the green, or the four-foot putts he missed on the fourth hole two days in a row, or how he burned so many lips his putter should be tested for UV radiation.

"I made absolutely nothing," he said. "I just have to say, terrible day on the greens, and I had it at the wrong time."

You can ask Yang how hard it is to turn a 54-hole lead into a tournament win 36 straight times, as Woods had done before Sunday. Trying to secure victory No. 1 at the Honda Classic earlier this year, Yang nearly lost a four-shot lead with four holes remaining.

"Those four holes," he said, "seemed longer than my career."

All the more reason why Yang, a 150-to-1 shot, beating Woods was like Buster Douglas flooring Mike Tyson. CBS's Nick Faldo, practically beside himself over Yang's final 3-hybrid approach, said, "Tiger cannot believe it!"

What we really couldn't believe was that Tiger could not do anything to answer.

The slippery, bumpy, 72nd-hole putts Woods made at Torrey in 2008 and at Valhalla in 2000 look all the better after watching his orb veer everywhere but the cup at Hazeltine. Woods loosed so many F-bombs on 17 that he eventually buried his head in his arm, so as not to offend television viewers who read lips.

Hazeltine's greens and fairways will be resodded after this PGA. It'll be too late for Woods, whose putting was not his only problem. Iron shots flew to the fat of the green, away from pins. Chips went off in his hands, or came out chunky.

But Tiger wins anyway. With the airtight record, gorgeous wife, cute kids and yacht, Woods kept such a razor-sharp crease on his life that we had started to think of him as a brand leader or an action figure. (Comes complete with sidekick Stevie!)

But he's human, we were reminded Sunday, a gifted man who had bucked the fickle nature of golf to win 14 of 14 majors and close out 36 tournaments in a row when he had the 54-hole lead.

With all due respect to Watson, it may be the greatest achievement the game has ever seen.

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