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Tiger missed opportunity against Phil

February 15, 2012

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In the wake of Sunday’s Tiger-Phil showdown at the Pebble Beach corral, one prevailing image emerges.

It is of Phil Mickelson, standing over a coffin, hammer in hand, pounding down a final nail.

Will Tiger Woods ever recover from this one? Can the 64-75 final-round beating that Woods took at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am be shrugged off as just another bad day, another step in the “process” that Tiger keeps talking about? It’s one thing to have your brains beat out, entirely another to have it happen when you are playing head to head, in the second-to-last pairing of a tournament that has a huge following, that is played in one of the most picturesque places in the world.

CBS announcer Jim Nantz keynoted things pretty well when he said, in dead-on accurate simplicity, “This is a big day for golf.”

It was Tiger and Phil, together again. You could almost imagine PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem pulling up a chair in front of the TV in his Florida headquarters and rubbing his hands together in delight.

Charlie Wi, a fine golfer, led the tournament, and he was in the final pairing. Right in front were the two names that have rung the chimes with American golf fans for the last 10 years. Poor Charlie. You kind of knew he would somehow be gobbled up by one of the two monsters of golf’s midway, but to his credit, he recovered from a four-putt first green to finish second.

After Woods got himself in prime position to strike on Sunday, with lead-up rounds of 68-68-67, the feeling around the venerable Lodge and among the people who watched from the gallery amid the legendary cypress trees was that this would be Tiger’s comeback Sunday. It would be Michael Jordan-esque. Instead of standing up and proclaiming “I’m back,” he could merely do it with golf clubs in hand.

But he’s not back, unless they create a category for best three-round tour player.

The greatest golf finisher of our time can no longer finish. A player who cherished big moments, who wore red on close-’em-out Sundays that always seemed to symbolize the fire with which he took it to his foes, had a storybook setup.

He was in a final pairing with his biggest rival and nemesis, and his history was of being the guy who always drew first at high noon.

Hope springs eternal for Tiger fans. Mickelson said that one week can change everything. Woods may still have that week. But the doubts are adding up, the evidence continuing to bring unmistakable conclusions. Sunday’s Pebble Beach finale becomes the new Exhibit A in opportunity missed.

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