Tiger Woods’s challenge on the final day of the U.S. Open faded just as quickly as it began a day earlier.
Woods, along with almost every contender in the second major championship of the year, bogeyed his way around Pebble Beach Golf Links during the final 18 holes yesterday and squandered opportunities to seize the tournament he had won on the same course by a record 15 shots a decade ago.
Instead, it was Graeme McDowell, a 30-year-old from Northern Ireland, who became the first European to win the event since 1970. As McDowell cradled the trophy on the 18th green, Woods blamed the loss on mental errors, an excuse rarely admitted by the three-time U.S. Open winner, and his caddie, Steve Williams.
“I told Steve we made three mental mistakes,” Woods said in a brief televised interview. “The only thing it cost us was a chance to win the U.S. Open.”
Woods remains at 14 major championship victories, four shy of Jack Nicklaus’s record.
After climbing into contention with a 5-under-par 66 two days ago, Woods said repeated mistakes yesterday left him in a tie for fourth place after a round of 4-over-par 75. It was the same result he had at the Masters Tournament in April, the first event he played after taking a hiatus from golf following his admission of marital infidelity.
Woods failed to capitalize as third-round leader Dustin Johnson tumbled from the top of the leaderboard within an hour of his final round beginning. Johnson, who began the day leading McDowell by three shots and Woods by five, made a triple-bogey on the second hole, a double-bogey on the third and a bogey on the fourth to fall out of contention for good.
Instead of taking advantage, Woods bogeyed the first and fourth holes to fall four shots behind McDowell.
Woods said his first big mistake came at the par-5 sixth hole, where his 3-wood tee shot flew off the edge of a cliff, leading to the third of six bogeys.
“It should have been a 2-iron down there,” Woods said.
He wasn’t the only marquee player unable to tame the 91-year-old course along the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Ernie Els, a two-time U.S. Open winner, moved into a tie for the lead with a birdie on the sixth hole, his third of the day, only to drop back with two bogeys and a double-bogey over the next five holes. He finished third, two shots behind McDowell.
Phil Mickelson, this year’s Masters Tournament winner and a five-time U.S. Open runner-up, birdied his opening hole and had eight straight pars before shooting 3-over for the final nine holes to finish in a tie with Woods.
“It was a wide open tournament,” Mickelson said. “Many guys had a chance. All I had to do was shoot even par on the back. I wasn’t able to do it.”
Neither was Woods, who said advice from Williams led to another bogey on the 10th hole. Williams told Woods to take “dead aim” when the world’s top-ranked player said he wanted to hit his sand wedge approach shot to the left of the flag.
“In my heart I said no,” Woods said. “You can’t play at that flag.”
The ball rolled about 15 feet past the hole, leading to another bogey.
The title fell out of Woods’s reach when two holes later he made what he called his third mental mistake, a decision he said was also influenced by Williams, his caddie of 11 years.
Facing a downhill tee shot on a 203-yard par-3 hole, Woods said his “instincts” were to hit a 5-iron to the right side of the green. Instead, Woods said “we thought a 4-iron would be better and I just made an awful swing.”
The ball landed left of the green in heavy rough, leading to his last bogey and dropping him six shots behind the leader with six holes to play.
By the time the final round was over, Woods trailed the winner by three. He rolled his eyes and looked to the sky when explaining what went wrong.
“You take away those three mental errors and I’m tied for the lead,” he said.
Instead of walking off with the trophy and celebrating with his wife and children as he did two years ago at Torrey Pines near San Diego, Woods slipped away from the course flanked by his agent, Mark Steinberg, spokesman Glenn Greenspan and a bevy of armed police.
Woods is next expected to play at the AT&T National, a tournament he will host at the Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, from July 1-4.