Tiger Woods Will Need a Huge Rally

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 22, 2009

FARMINGDALE, N.Y., June 21 -- Tiger Woods's golf résumé has been a series of firsts. He'll need several more to secure his fourth U.S. Open title and move a step closer to his career goal of surpassing Jack Nicklaus for most major championships.

Woods shot a 2-under-par 68 in Sunday's third round to get to 1 over for the tournament, nine strokes back of leader Ricky Barnes. The largest final-round comeback in U.S. Open history is seven shots, by Arnold Palmer in 1960.

Woods has never rallied while trailing to start the final round to win any of his 14 major championships, and his biggest comeback was from eight shots in the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic, a non-PGA Tour event. Daunting odds even for a player who won last year's U.S. Open with a stress fracture in his left tibia and a torn knee ligament in the same leg.

"You have to play a great round and get some help," Woods said after carding his best score this week at Bethpage Black. "Obviously it's not totally in my control. Only thing I can control is whether I can play a good [round] or not."

Normally impervious to the worst of conditions on the golf course, Woods has toiled trying to establish a consistent putting stroke on these soft greens.

"Don't forget, this is a different golf course than what we have been preparing for," Woods said. "It's soft. I mean I hit a 4-iron today that was about head-high on [No. 7] that only went about 10 feet on the green. I don't think I've ever seen that in a U.S. Open before."

Now Woods must gird himself to overcome a deficit from which no one in the history of the sport has rallied. He got off to a promising start at 1 under through seven holes of his fourth round and will begin Monday trailing by seven.

"You have to adapt, and you have to be more aggressive," Woods said. "There are a bunch of 64s. . . . What else was there today, this week? A couple 65s. The guys are just tearing this place apart."

Nine shots may seem insurmountable for anyone except Woods, who frequently has made the implausible routine. He sank a short putt on the 91st hole last year at Torrey Pines to beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff for his 14th major, then announced he was having reconstructive knee surgery.

After missing eight months, Woods soon removed any doubts about his fitness and mental fortitude by erasing a five-stroke deficit in the final round to win at Bay Hill in March. That matched the largest comeback of his career in a PGA event.

Then earlier this month, Woods won the Memorial after beginning Sunday trailing by four shots. Woods's virtuoso performance in that final round included missing zero fairways and making birdie on the final two holes to break a four-way tie en route to a 7-under 65.

The question now is whether he has a 65 or better in him in the closing round of the U.S. Open.

"I have hit the ball well enough to do it, but just haven't made the putts," said Woods, who has not gone a year without a major championship trophy since winning the 2005 Masters. "Today I was within 15 feet a lot but just did not have the putts go in. I've been lipping it out, burning the edges and just haven't got it right yet."

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