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Tiger Woods will head to the PGA Championship still seeking his first major of 2007. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
Tiger Woods will head to the PGA Championship still seeking his first major of 2007. (Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)

Woods' bid for an Open three-peat ends in a whimper

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Tiger Woods knew he needed a world-class charge Sunday, but it never came. His bid to become the first player in 50 years to win three straight Opens ended with a pedestrian 70, as he finished tied for 12th, five shots off the pace.

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (AP) -- As he strolled down the 18th fairway on the final day of the Open Championship, Tiger Woods doffed his hat to the cheering crowd and flashed that world-famous smile.

He was just going through the motions. The Claret Jug wasn't waiting for him this time.

Woods' attempt to become the first golfer in more than a half-century to win three straight Open Championships ended quietly Sunday, without providing even the glimmer of a rousing comeback.

He teed off trailing third-round leader Sergio Garcia by a daunting eight strokes, and he knew by the turn it was over. Woods needed to go low -- real low -- but he could only manage a 1-over-par 70.

"It would have been nice if I would have just hit the ball a little better and given myself a chance," he moaned.

As it turned out, Woods was a mere afterthought on a wild final day.

This Open was about Garcia, missing a 10-footer at the 72nd hole that would have given him his first major title. This one was about Padraig Harrington, beating Garcia in a playoff after knocking not one, but two shots into the Barry Burn on the last hole of regulation.

Woods opened with a solid 69, which gave hope to a repeat of his performances at St. Andrews and Royal Liverpool the last two years. Instead, he slumped to a 74 in the second round after one of the worst shots of his career -- a play-it-safe iron off the tee at the very first hole, yanked into the same pesky burn that meanders through much of the course.

While Woods did bounce back to break par in both weekend rounds, his iron play simply wasn't strong enough to give him a realistic chance at rallying. He often found himself far away from the cup on Carnoustie's tricky greens, leaving him more concerned with avoiding three putts than making one putt.

He did sink a couple of improbable birdies earlier in the tournament, one from 90 feet, the other finding the cup from 100 feet away. But no one, not even the world's greatest player, can expect those kinds of putts to drop on a regular basis.

Woods wound up tied for 12th, five shots back with a 2-under 282 total.

"I wasn't hitting the ball as close as I needed to all week," Woods said. "I was putting beautifully. If I hit the ball in birdie range, I made them. I just didn't hit the ball close enough."

On Sunday, Woods made back-to-back birdies before heading to the par-5, 578-yard sixth -- one of the easiest holes on the course -- with a chance to shave another stroke off his score.

A third straight birdie certainly would have sent a shudder through those up ahead, and Woods might have given himself a better shot at one if he had pulled the driver out of the bag.

But, considering the wind blowing in his face and the out-of-bounds line hugging the left side of the fairway, he judged the risk greater than the potential reward. It was the sort of calculated decision that has worked so well for him in winning 12 major titles, all of them as a front-runner on the final day. He wasn't about to take some wacky gamble to prove that he could win one coming from behind.

He went with an iron.

"I couldn't get there in two," Woods explained. "If the wind had laid down a little bit, I could have gotten there in two. But the way it was blowing, I would actually struggle to carry the bunkers. It would have been driver, driver and maybe. I figured just play smart and there's plenty of holes left."

Woods ended up settling for par at No. 6. He took a bogey two holes later. There would be no comeback at this major, either.

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"If I could have gotten one or two more (birdies) by the turn and added a few on the back nine, it would have been an ideal round," Woods said. "It didn't turn out that way."

He struck a magnificent approach shot on the difficult closing hole, but his birdie attempt spun around the lip of the cup. Woods rubbed the bridge of his nose, stared back out toward the fairway, then tapped in for a par that seemed to epitomize his week.

He's 0-for-the-majors this year, having finished as the runner-up at the Masters and the U.S. Open. He'll head to the PGA Championship in Oklahoma next month with one last chance to avoid his first shutout in the four biggest tournaments since 2004.

Until then, there are two people back home in Florida who might make this loss easier to take -- his wife, Elin, and their daughter, Sam, born right after a runner-up finish at Oakmont last month.

"It's hard to believe you can miss something so bad only being gone a week," Woods said. "But I certainly do miss them. I'm looking forward to seeing them."

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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