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Try as he might, Tiger Woods just could not find his putting stroke anywhere Saturday at Royal Liverpool. (Photo: AP)
Try as he might, Tiger Woods just could not find his putting stroke anywhere Saturday at Royal Liverpool. (Photo: AP)

Grant Me This: The big dogs went hungry Saturday

PGA.com contributor Grant Boone fully expected Tiger Woods and Ernie Els to feast on a hard, fast Royal Liverpool on Saturday. Instead they both lost their appetites as the field closed in fast at the 135th Open Championship.

By Grant Boone, Special to PGA.com

Those dogs didn't hunt.

Tiger Woods and Ernie Els, who'd broken from the pack through two rounds of the Open Championship, whimpered in with 71s Saturday, practically puppy chow compared to the baker's dozen who kept helping themselves to the center cut and now find themselves within five shots of Tiger's lead going into the final round. Bone appetit!

There's no rhyme for orange (the color of both Tiger's shirt for two days and most of the greens for all three) and no reason he shouldn't break 70 at Royal Liverpool every time he tees it up. As he'd done during the first two rounds, Woods hit the ball beautifully again Saturday (12 of 14 fairways and 15 greens) but this time fell on his sword, taking 34 putts after needing just 27 and 28 the first two days. Twice Tiger putted thrice on the back nine alone, missing short ones at 10, 14, and 17, which not only cost him strokes but valuable momentum for himself and that palpable, prevailing sense of dread for his opponents.

Make no mistake: If Tiger putts well in today's final round, he wins going away. If he merely makes the ones he's supposed to make, he probably still wins. But if he putts like he did Saturday, it could be anyone's claret jug. And by "anyone" I mean, how does "Hideto Tanihara, Open Champion" hit you? It's Nippon tuck now, and not even Tiger can be sure of what's next.

Except that he'll play with Sergio Garcia in Sunday's final pairing. When the PGA Championship returns to Medinah next month, we'll relive the epic battle those two had there in 1999. Sergio didn't catch Tiger that day, and he's been chasing him ever since. A day after Woods tied Hoylake's course record with a 65 that featured a hole-out from the fairway, Garcia did the same Saturday, kick-started by an eagle-2 at the second en route to an outward 29. What he'd really like is to mimic is Tiger's winning the Open Championship and finally get that major monkey off his back.

But it won't be easy. For one thing, Sergio's easily the worst putter among the world's elite players. In fact, he may be the only golfer on the planet more likely to make something from the fairway than the green. A shaky stroke and a date with Tiger in Sunday's final group don't bode well. What does is the law of averages that would seem to suggest someone so talented will eventually win a biggie.

It's ironic how the roles have reversed a bit from that Chicago Sunday seven years ago. Back then, Sergio was the scissor-kicking Oscar Madison, letting it all hang out, to Tiger's uptight Felix Unger. Now, it's Woods who goes bungee jumping and Garcia who's had the joy sucked out of him while trying to scratch a seven-year major championship itch. We'll see The Odd Couple redux Sunday.

Garcia's not the only Out-of-Towner with questions to answer. The South African Els has three Opens -- two U.S. and one British -- but how will he handle this biggest test since a knee injury ended his season last year? In the crucible of Saturday's final pairing with Tiger, Els' 71 was a hodgepodge of clunky iron shots, a few clutch putts, and a brief Winnie-the-Pooh impersonation when he found a gorse bush at 7.

Can Chris DiMarco handle the emotional tumult of Open Sunday in the wake of his mother's sudden death on July 4? DiMarco followed Friday's 65 with a solid 69 Saturday. He's lost majors the last three years to Mickelson, Singh, and Woods. No shame there, but he'll have a lot on his mind come Sunday afternoon.

How good is Jim Furyk's memory? He's the only one of the three who blew it on the last hole of the U.S. Open a month ago in contention this week, but he'll have to forget about the clutch putt he missed in Mamaroneck if he finds himself in a similar situation Sunday.

Will Angel Cabrera make the leap from big hitter to big-time champion? Don't cry for Argentina if Cabrera wins. He'd join his compatriot Roberto DiVicenzo as Hoylake's last two Open champs.

And those are just the guys who woke up this morning within three. Mark Calcavecchia's only four back, and his advantage is that he possesses a certain quality the English describe as "doesn't give a crap." Which means he's willing to risk finishing 40th to give himself a chance to win. And he's already won this tournament, at Troon in 1989 when he wasn't even lining up the long putts and they still went in.

The only thing noteworthy reigning U.S. Open champion Geoff Ogilvy has done so far was look like a Power Puff Girl in that pink polka dot shirt he brought out Saturday. But there've already been four 65s this week. A fifth from Ogilvy would erase his seven-shot deficit and give the final few groups a number to stare at coming in.

Then there's the 1:05 p.m. tee time featuring Englishman Simon Khan and South Korea's S.K. Ho, who at 6 under could play naked and no one would notice. Unless one of them streaked up the leaderboard with the round of his dreams. And haven't all of us had that dream where we showed up for work with no clothes on? (Say yes.)

No doubt about it, Tiger threw the field a bone with his so-so Saturday, and now both his pursuers and he have something to chew on: while Woods is a perfect 10-for-10 when taking a lead into the final round of a Grand Slam event, his putter has also kept him from at least a couple of major comebacks in the last two years. Let the dogfight begin.

Grant Boone

Grant Boone is a husband, father, golf broadcaster, and sports journalist based in Texas. He can be contacted at pgagrant@hotmail.com.



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