ARDMORE, Pa. — Tiger Woods will play the final round on Sunday, but his chance to win this U.S. Open ended at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon on the par-4 12th hole. Woods pulled his tee shot left into a mound of thick clumpy rough, punched out to the fairway, then hit a pitch shot to the front of the green about 20 feet from the hole. He got the line right with his putt, but his ball stopped an inch short. He tapped in with one arm for bogey and a 7-over total, his Open effectively finished.
"I didn't make anything today," Woods said after he finished his round of 76 at 9-over for the tournament. "I just couldn't get a feel for them, some putts were slow, some were fast and I had a tough time getting my speed right."
Paired with fellow million-dollar Nike pitchman Rory McIlroy for the third-straight day, Woods entered the day within four shots of the lead and started hot with a birdie on the first hole. That would be his only birdie of the day. Woods took 36 putts on Saturday and while he hit a lot of greens, he didn't give himself many great looks at birdie.
"If you leave yourself in the correct spots, you can be pretty aggressive with some putts and they're not that fast uphill into the grain," Woods said. "So if you put yourself in a correct spot you can really take a pretty good run at it and be aggressive, but if you put the ball in the wrong spots, yeah, it's tough to make putts."
Woods was in those wrong spots most of the day. McIlroy fared about the same, shooting 75 that ended his hopes of another U.S. Open win as well. McIlroy is at 8-over. His game just wasn't up to the test Merion presented, McIlroy said.
"If you're not on your game 100 percent, you get on the wrong side of greens and it's just frightening because I didn't feel like I played too badly," McIlroy said. "I missed a few shots here and there and I was trying on every shot out there and I was trying to get myself back into it, but it's tough."
That was the right word to describe his and Woods' round. They still thrilled the Merion crowds who seemed to adopt McIlroy in the same way Woods has. The "Rory! Rory!" chants followed the group wherever they went. But Woods and McIlroy just couldn't make the charges that everyone was hoping for. It was left to Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño — replacing Adam Scott as the third wheel of the star grouping — to provide most of the cheers Saturday, including a chip in for birdie from behind the 17th green that earned a fist-bump from Woods. Castano shot 72 on Saturday and finished at 5-over, and if not for a double-bogey on 11, Castano and his upturned collar would be right in the thick of this Open.
Lindsey Vonn, dressed casually in a purple T-shirt and black shorts, joined Woods' entourage as he walked off 18 and headed to the makeshift interview area outside the scoring tent where a disappointed Woods gamely answered questions about his round. He agreed that the Merion course was as penal a U.S. Open setup as he's ever played.
"Most definitely, because of the pins, I think," Woods said. "The long holes are playing really long and the short holes obviously are short, but the thing is that the pins out there, what they're giving us out there is really tough."
With four wins already in 2013 and playing on a course that looked to play to his strengths as a shot-maker and a putter, Woods was the clear favorite going into this tournament. Now five full years have passed since Woods won his last major at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. He talked on Saturday about missing yet another opportunity to win his 15th major.
"It certainly is frustrating," Woods said. "At Augusta I was pretty close and I had the lead at one point and I hit the flag and ended up in the water. This week I was clearing up the rounds and I'm one shot off the lead starting the last day without any three-putts. And I'm playing well enough to do it and unfortunately just haven't gotten it done."