GULLANE, Scotland -- The closing charge he has so desperately needed in final rounds of majors during the past several years went missing again Sunday as Tiger Woods shot a 74 at Muirfield to finish in a tie for sixth at the Open Championship, five strokes behind winner Phil Mickelson.
Mickelson's remarkable final-round 66 may have taken some of the sting out of the finish for Woods, who only needed to look at the huge scoreboard beside the 18th green at Muirfield to see that Lefty lapped the field.
Nonetheless, it was another opportunity gone by to capture a 15th major title; Woods was just two strokes behind Lee Westwood entering the final round.
"Well, I think if it does feel any better, it's that Phil got to 3 [under]," Woods said after finishing at 2-over 286 for the tournament. "If he would have posted 1 [under], it would be a different story. I think a lot of us would be a little more ticked than we are now. But he posted 3 [under]. That's a hell of a number."
As it turned out, Woods needed a 69 to tie Mickelson, and nobody in the last 11 groups other than the eventual champion broke 70.
Woods was far from that, although he had a solid ballstriking tournament and put himself in the best position to win a major through 54 holes in four years.
Still, he started shaky with bogeys on two of the first four holes, leaving himself long birdie putts that he could not lag enough, leading to three putts. From there it was a game of catch-up that he could never conquer.
"It was frustrating," Woods said. "I played well. I could just never get the speed [of the greens] right today. We started on the first day, and it progressively got slower. And that's usually the opposite at most tournaments. It usually gets faster as the week goes on, but this week was different. And today I had a couple of opportunities to make a couple of putts and I left them short."
Asked about wanting this one a bit more than others, he said, "I want every one, are you kidding me? I felt like I was really playing well today. Actually the whole week. I really hit so many good shots and really had control of my ball this week. As I said, it was just trying to get the speed and I just didn't get it."
Woods made no excuses. There was no mention of the left elbow injury that affected him last month at the U.S. Open, nor the ensuing break to rest. And he noted that he was able to watch parts of the telecast on Sunday morning and recognize that the greens were slower and not releasing as they had been during the first few rounds.
He didn't make his first birdie until the par-5 ninth, which at the time got him within 2 strokes of the lead, held then by Westwood. But Woods could not sustain the momentum. He missed the fairway at the 10th and made a bogey, then made another one at the 11th. Birdies at Nos. 12 and 14 were too few.
Woods now has nine top-6 finishes in major championships in the 17 he has played since the 2008 U.S. Open, the last of his 14 major titles. He is now 23-over par in the third and fourth rounds of major championships in the last two years, compared with 11 under in the first two rounds. And his 74 on Sunday tied his highest final-round score at the Open as a pro.
The No. 1-ranked player in the world, Woods has won four times this year on the PGA Tour and seven times in the last two years. He's put himself in position several times heading into the weekend at majors but has failed to shoot in the 60s.
It will lead to more questions about the mental hurdles involved in getting to major No. 15, but Woods wasn't going there Sunday.
"Overall I've been very positive about how I played this week, and the frustrating part as I said is I didn't get the speed," he said. "As the greens got slower, I had a harder time adjusting and hitting the putts harder because that first day I think it got to a lot of us that played in the afternoon. They were really quick and they kept getting faster and faster. As the week went on, they got slower."
Woods has little time to regroup. After a week at home, it's on to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, followed by his last chance to win a major championship this year at the PGA Championship to be played at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y.
"We have a World Golf Championship here at a golf course I like (he's won seven times at Firestone Country Club), and I've had a little success on it," Woods said. "I'm looking forward to that. And getting up there and playing Oak Hill and seeing what they've done. They've made a few changes [since Woods tied for 39th in the 2003 PGA]. Made the golf course a little longer. I'd like to see it before the week starts."