Opportunity knocked, but rushed Tiger didn't answer
SANDWICH, England -- So it's true. Winning major championships isn't easy.

Contenders step aside
Ben Curtis was sputtering toward the finish and Thomas Bjorn was imploding in the sand. If ever there was a British Open begging to be taken, this was it.

Tiger Woods knew it as he stalked the fairways over the final holes. So did a couple of other guys with major championship credentials.

In the grandstands, the massive crowds sensed something historic in the making. On the edge of their seats, they were ready to erupt at any sign of a move by players who had been there before.

For the lack of a few simple pars, it never came.

And the contenders who would be king left Royal St. George's with their heads down, trying to figure out how this one could have slipped away.

"I had my chances and I blew it,'' Vijay Singh said. "There's no excuse for that.''

He wasn't alone.

The greatest player in the world needed only to par his last four holes to get into a playoff. Surely, Woods would be hoisting his second Claret Jug on the 18th green.

He didn't come close, bogeying two of the last four to stretch his major championship winless streak to five.

And what about Davis Love III? Wasn't he playing in the final group and heading for the relatively easy par-5 14th with a chance to tie for the lead?

He was, until he made par on the hole and a bogey on the 17th to finish tied with Woods, two shots back.

The biggest surprise in one of the most surprising Opens may not have been Ben Curtis hanging on to win by a shot over Singh and Bjorn. It may have been that three players with 11 major titles between them couldn't even play par golf on the finishing holes.
-- Associated Press

Tiger Woods made it look that way when he won seven of 11, including four in a row during one stretch.

Now he's gone five straight without winning a grand slam event, and although he gave himself a chance on Sunday at the British Open, he came up two shots short and finished in a tie for fourth.

"It's never been easy,'' Woods said.

It only appeared so.

Woods has won eight major championships, all of them from the front. He grabbed the lead, held onto it, and never let go. He let the others make the mistakes.

Lately, he's been chasing. And he's made the errors.

On Sunday, it was two bogeys in the final four holes that cost him. Actually, it was the entire back nine that cost him all week. He played it in 8 over par.

Denmark's Thomas Bjorn, who was two strokes ahead of winner Ben Curtis at the time and four ahead of Woods, made a huge blunder when he took three swipes to get out of the sand at the 16th hole. That led to a double-bogey that could have been Woods' break. Instead, Woods followed it with a bogey at the 17th hole.

"I didn't know Thomas was going to make (5 on 16),'' Woods said. "We didn't know he was going to do that. But it's one of those things. I had a chance. I was at 2 under par there for awhile, and I put myself right where I needed to be and just didn't quite make the putts and hit the proper shots. I hit some good shots on the back nine -- they just didn't turn out where I wanted to put them.''

Woods had a couple of good birdie chances at the 12th and 13th holes Sunday, putts that would have made a huge difference in the outcome had they dropped.

Turns out, Woods doesn't believe he had a fair chance to make them. Woods said he and Vijay Singh were put on the clock at the 12th hole.

That means tournament officials warned them that they were playing too slow, and that a penalty could be imposed.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods said he felt rushed down the stretch because he and Vijay Singh were put on the clock.

"They tried to get us to play in three hours and 23 minutes,'' Woods said. "That's pretty quick on a Sunday afternoon. You would think they wouldn't put you on the clock on Sunday. That's pretty unusual.''

Woods said he felt he rushed his putts on both of those holes, that he didn't take enough time to read them. He made pars at both holes, birdied the 14th, then saw his chances to win the tournament doomed with bogeys at the 15th and 17th holes.

"When you're on the clock, you're not in your normal rhythm, that's for sure,'' he said.

Woods can look back at the lost ball on the very first hole of the tournament that led to a triple-bogey 7. Or the four-putt during the second round. Or the poor back nine.

Tale of two sides
Tiger Woods had trouble on the back nine in his last three rounds. Here's a breakdown of his numbers over the last 54 holes.
  Front 9 Back 9
Score to par -9 +8
Birdies 7 2
Eagles 2 0
Bogeys/Worse 2/0 8/1

He finished two back. No, it's not easy.

"You can look at that in just about every major championship,'' Woods said. "It's going to work out for somebody. You've got to have things go your way in order to win. The times that I have won I've had some great breaks go my way. The shot that hit the tree and it spit out, put it back in the fairway and made birdie. Hit a terrible shot, got a good bounce and made par. You need to have those good breaks.

"And this week, I got my share of good breaks, and also got my share of really bad ones, too.''

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times, and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com