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Not a Game of Perfect

March 31, 2008
March 31, 2008

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March 31, 2008

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Not a Game of Perfect

A three-putt here, a too-early click of a camera there, and suddenly someone like Geoff Ogilvy is slamming home the hard reality of golf: Even Tiger Woods can't win them all

THIS IS AS closeas golf gets to March Madness: Tiger Woods didn't win. Wait, it's crazier thanthat: Tiger Woods didn't win ... a World Golf Championship ... at Doral. ¶That's impossible, you say. Tiger owns the WGCs the way Donald Trump owns thecomb-over, having won 15 of the first 26. And Tiger plays Doral the way WyntonMarsalis plays the trumpet, having taken the last three tournaments there. Ontop of that, Tiger hadn't lost since September and over the last six months hadbecome more intimidating than the paparazzi, more perfect than thePatriots.

This is an article from the March 31, 2008 issue

How could TomBrady—er, Tiger—not win? Because that's the fickle nature of the game. Woodswas going for seven straight victories and making another run at Byron Nelson'sunfathomable record of 11 in a row. Tiger appeared to be right on track as heblitzed the familiar Blue Monster with opening rounds of 67 and 66, 11 underpar. At the final hole on Friday he rolled in a 24-footer for birdie thatbanked like Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega. Three feet before the balldropped, Woods confidently raised his putt er, creating what everyone figuredto be the quintessential Tiger moment of the week, not to mention a spiffycover for the 2009 tournament program.

The only problemwas that Woods fizzled on the weekend, losing ground with an even-par 72 in thethird round and then failing to make up a five-shot deficit during therain-delayed Sunday-Monday final 18. Instead, Geoff Ogilvy chipped in to savepar at the 13th hole and, with a 17-under 271 that included nary a three-putt,won the CA Championship by a stroke over Jim Furyk, Retief Goosen and VijaySingh. Woods finished two back in fifth. "I had too many mistakes thisweek," said Woods, who had four three-putts. "If I clean up my roundsthis week, I'm right there."

So Nelson'srecord is safe (for now, anyway), Tiger's streak is over and we can stopdebating its length. If you list Woods with five wins in a row because youthink only official PGA Tour events count, you probably live in the 904 areacode and can explain the FedEx Cup points system. If you had Tiger at sixstraight because you included his European tour victory in Dubai, you'reprobably hooked on the Travel Channel and own oil futures. If you had thestreak at seven because you counted his win at the Target World Challenge, asilly-season event with a mere 16 players, you are a true-blue FOT (Friend ofTiger).

We can also putto rest all that giddy talk about Tiger's running the table in '08. After hisvictories at Torrey Pines and Dubai, the Match Play and Bay Hill, some peoplewere beginning to wonder. Welcome back to reality.

"As great aplayer as Tiger is, it's impossible to win every event," says two-time Tourwinner Aaron Baddeley. "We're human, you know. You're going to have a timewhen things don't go quite right. Tiger is always going to win his fair shareof tournaments. It's not that I'm relieved that he didn't win. [A loss] wasgoing to happen. It was simply a matter of when, whether it was six events ...or 26."

Ogilvy's victorywas affirmation that Woods is beatable, even on one of his favorite courses.Asked earlier in the week about the possibility of losing, Woods admitted thathe was sure it would happen eventually. Yet considering the way he had playedthis year—43 under par in three stroke-play wins and a scoring average of67.75— others weren't so sure.

"I think itwould've been cool if Tiger had won every one," said Paul Casey, who waspaired with Woods in the first two rounds. "It's a great time to be playinggolf. We all want to win, and Tiger reduces our opportunities every time he'sin the field, but it's cool because we get to see history being made."

Woods had 10birdies in the breezy first two rounds, plus a pair of eagles on Friday. Hereached the downwind, 529-yard 1st hole with, ho-hum, a seven-iron, and holed agreenside bunker shot on the 603-yard 12th. He had momentum, he had confidence,he had everything but the lead—Ogilvy was a stroke better. "[Tiger] playedphenomenal golf the first two days," Casey said. "I didn't thinkanybody would be up there with him, but he wasn't even leading. It shows thequality of golf that Geoff played."

There were threenoteworthy occur rences on Saturday. First, the wind lay down, so on a rarecalm March day in Miami, Doral was defenseless, and a birdie fest ensued.Second, Tiger's putt er went cold. He didn't birdie the 1st hole for the firsttime in 10 years. In fact—somebody call Mr. Guinness—he didn't birdie any ofthe par-5s and was trampled by a stampede of pursuers, including Singh andGraeme Storm, who shot 63s.

Finally, theplayers who passed Woods were almost all guys who were supposedly capable ofclosing the gap on Tiger but hadn't. Goosen, 39, hasn't won a full-fieldstroke-play event in America since the 2004 U.S. Open and lately has beenstruggling with the aftereffects of laser eye surgery. Furyk won the CanadianOpen last summer but hadn't had a top 12 finish in his six previous starts andreportedly has been tinkering with the belly putter. (He used a conventionalmodel at Doral.) Singh, the last man to dethrone Woods as No. 1 in the WorldRanking, is finally seeing positive results as some swing changes kick in andalready has four top fives this year. And then there was Ogilvy, the thoughtful30-year-old Australian whose game didn't go to the next level after he won the2006 U.S. Open but whose family did. Ogilvy and his wife, Juli, have had twochildren in the last 15 months.

"It's prettysatisfying to win a big one like this," Ogilvy said. As for stoppingTiger's streak, he added, "I'm very glad I did it. And it's a nice place todo it because he's owned this course in the past."

A long-termreturn to form by any or all of the above players would suddenly spice up ashow that Woods has monopolized since his PGA Championship victory last August.Overanalyze Tiger's lost weekend at Doral if you must, but it appeared to besimply a case of the putts not falling. Tiger's frustration boiled over onSunday at the 9th tee when a photographer's motor-drive camera firedprematurely. A highly annoyed Woods hissed, "Not on my swing!" duringhis one-handed follow-through (BIG PLAY, page G12) and went on to make a bogey.When darkness halted the final round, Woods was a distant five shots back withseven holes to play.

Still, whathappened at Doral is not going to change Woods's status as the overwhelmingfavorite at next month's Masters. "You don't get remembered for the numberof wins in your career," Tiger reminded reporters last week. "It's thenumber of wins in major championships."

Keep thosenumbers in mind, then—64 and 13, respectively. To think he's not going to addto those totals this year would really be March Madness.

News, scores andphotos from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans at GOLF.com.

PHOTOPhotograph by David WalbergSWING SHIFT Ogilvy was one of many players to leave Woods (inset) behind in the third round, in which Tiger shot a 72.PHOTOPhotograph by David Walberg [Seecaption above]PHOTOFRED VUICHPALM SUNDAY Woods, who had tree trouble on the 7th hole, gamely tried to come back but fell two shots short.