Cook: Woods fails to join list of legendary winners at storied Oakmont

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Andy Starnes, Post-Gazette
Tiger Woods reacts after failing to sink a putt on the 18th green, clearing the way for Angel Cabrera to win the 2007 U.S. Open golf championship.
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Excerpts from Tiger Woods' press conference after finishing tied for second at the 107th U.S. Open at Oakmont

Finishing second


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Angel Cabrera celebrates his U.S. Open championship victory at the Oakmont Country Club.
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It's only June 18, but you won't read anything more outrageous from an athlete on these pages all year than this little gem yesterday from Tiger Woods:

"My last four majors, I was 1-1-2-2. Not terrible, but it could have been a little better."

Here's the kicker:

Woods said it with a straight face and it made perfect sense.

Second place is never good enough in his world.

"Finishing second is never fun," Woods agreed.

It certainly made for a bummer at the 107th U.S. Open. The throngs didn't come to Oakmont Country Club to see Angel Cabrera win, no offense to a worthy champion. They came to see Woods join Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan and Jack Nicklaus as major winners on a legendary golf course that, with its stunning performance during the weekend, did nothing to lessen its argument as the best in the world.

Really, how cool would it have been if Woods had rolled in that 20-foot birdie try on No. 18 to force an 18-hole playoff today with Cabrera? They might not have wanted it in Argentina, where Cabrera is from, or been rooting for it in the Nicklaus household for historical reasons, but it's hard to believe just about everyone else on the planet wouldn't have loved it if only because the easiest thing to appreciate in sports is sheer brilliance, once-in-a-generation brilliance. It was that way when Nicklaus won his record 18 major championships, it's that way now with Woods, who won Nos. 11 and 12 at the British Open and the PGA Championship last year.

But it didn't work out quite right for Woods this time, much to his regret and ours. He made up ground on Nicklaus, but not the kind he wanted. Nicklaus finished second 19 times in major championships; Woods now has four seconds.

This one was just as unexpected as the one at the Masters in April, when Woods played in the final pairing and had the outright lead on Sunday after the second and third holes but couldn't hold off winner Zach Johnson. Playing in the final group again yesterday, he took the lead after the first hole, when third-round leader Aaron Baddeley had an unsightly triple bogey, and held at least a share of it through much of the front nine despite his own double on No. 3.

Superman is supposed to finish the job, right?

"It's not easy," Woods said. "Just because Badds made 7 on the first hole, we still have 17 more to go. It's not like they're handing out the trophy on the first green."

Woods never did get his hands on that beauty. He didn't putt well enough to deserve it. He made some big par putts yesterday, notably on No. 6, when he did his famous right-fist pump, and on Nos. 15, 16 and 17 to give himself a chance. But he couldn't make the birdie putt he needed to get the heat boiling under Cabrera. On Saturday, he wasted some of the best ball-striking of his life by failing to make a birdie on the final 14 holes. Yesterday, he had just one all day, missing most egregiously from 6 feet on No. 13 after a terrific tee ball.

"I hit so many good golf shots and ended up 10, 12 feet away and playing 2, 3 feet of break," Woods said, blaming Oakmont greens -- the toughest in the world, he called them -- for most of his problems. But he fingered only himself for the miss on 13, which would have pulled him within one of Cabrera at the time. "It was an easy little putt downhill, right-to-left. I had to play about a cup outside the right and I hit it a touch too hard and missed it on the high side."

Seeing that putt slide by almost was enough to make you think Woods is human.

So does this nugget that seems almost too hard to believe:

Woods still hasn't won a major tournament when he's behind going into Sunday. He's 0 for 29 as a pro, and, no, he's not proud of it.

"I haven't gotten it done," he said. "Put myself there and haven't gotten it done."

You would think that will end eventually, maybe at the British Open at Carnoustie in mid-July. That's if Woods plays. His wife, Elin, is due to deliver their first child sometime in July and he has promised to have a front-row seat, even if it means missing the British Open.

The baby will change Woods' life, no question.

He or she will make for a special Father's Day for him next year, no matter what happens at the '08 Open at Torrey Pines.

Certainly, a better Father's Day than this one.


Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com .


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