Tiger Not the No. 1 Threat Anymore

By: Rob Duca


Like so many PGA Tour events this season, all eyes were on Tiger Woods when the week began at the Deutsche Bank Championship, especially after he recorded six straight birdies en route to an opening-round, 7-under par 64 that left him two strokes off the lead.

Snedeker & Woods at TPC Boston

But over the Labor Day weekend in a tournament with a rare, scheduled Monday finish, the story became someone else as has so often happened in 2012. It wasn't that Woods stumbled like the previous week with a final-round 76 at The Barclays. He posted 66 to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a Tour event for the first time - are you ready for this? - since the 2009 BMW Championship.

It was more that Woods doesn't strike fear anymore into others with his mere presence on the leaderboard, and Rory McIlroy, who remains atop the world rankings and is now No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings as well, knows how to close just as Woods once did.

Asked afterward about Tiger's presence in the group ahead, McIlroy said, "Obviously I looked at the board a few times and saw that I was maybe a couple ahead of Louis [Oosthuizen] and then a couple ahead of the next guy. I think it was Tiger," he said. "But no, I mean, I was very comfortable out there, and I didn't really think about it at all."

The next guy, who he thought was Tiger? That answer speaks volumes.

But over the Labor Day weekend in a tournament with a rare, scheduled Monday finish, the story became someone else as has so often happened in 2012. It wasn't that Woods stumbled like the previous week with a final-round 76 at The Barclays. He posted 66 to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a Tour event for the first time - are you ready for this? - since the 2009 BMW Championship.

It was more that Woods doesn't strike fear anymore into others with his mere presence on the leaderboard, and Rory McIlroy, who remains atop the world rankings and is now No. 1 in the FedEx Cup standings as well, knows how to close just as Woods once did.

Asked afterward about Tiger's presence in the group ahead, McIlroy said, "Obviously I looked at the board a few times and saw that I was maybe a couple ahead of Louis [Oosthuizen] and then a couple ahead of the next guy. I think it was Tiger," he said. "But no, I mean, I was very comfortable out there, and I didn't really think about it at all."

The next guy, who he thought was Tiger? That answer speaks volumes.

Another secondary story centered on the Ryder Cup team and the four captain's picks that Davis Love was to announce on Tuesday. By all accounts, the choice was coming down to Dustin Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Steve Stricker, Nick Watney, Jim Furyk and Rickie Fowler. [Editor's Note: Love selected Johnson, Snedeker, Stricker and Furyk.]

With finishes of T-4 and sixth, respectively, Johnson and Snedeker appeared to be on the team. Most people thought Stricker, with his experience and silky putting stroke, was also a lock after a 13th-place finish. Fowler might have played his way off the team after shooting 7-over par, which left the choice between Furyk and Watney.

As far as the Deutsche Bank Championship went, Monday's final round was basically the Rory and Louis show, with occasional appearances from Woods. Although Tiger was always lurking and shot 32 on the outward nine, he was never within two shots of the lead, and for most of the day stood three or four back.

"I certainly had my looks," Woods said. "I drove it really well on the back nine and just didn't hit it close enough at all. The only one I stuffed there was at 17, I missed that one. The goal was to at least get to 20 (under par) playing the last hole and give myself an option to go 21 or 22. I thought that might be good enough to get into a playoff."

Oosthuizen was the 54-hole leader with a three-stroke edge on McIlroy beginning the final round. But birdies by McIlroy on the second and third holes brought him to within one and they were tied for the lead after the fifth hole. Both made a mess of the par-4. Oosthuizen hit a pull hook into the hazard, took a drop and wound up with double-bogey. McIlroy chunked an iron on the way to a bogey. It wasn't the last time the two would stumble on the same hole.

McIlroy took the lead for good with birdie on the next hole, stuffing a 9-iron close from 154 yards. "It was a great bonus after making bogey at the fifth to bounce straight back with that birdie," he said. "Once I got into the lead, I felt very comfortable and just tried to keep applying the pressure, hit fairways, hit greens, and it worked for the most part."

McIlroy has displayed nerves of steel when leading, particularly when faced with testy par putts. Once again on Monday, he drained every putt that was necessary. He also showed a deft short game. But there were a couple of uncharacteristic miscues that opened the door for Oosthuizen. Well, temporarily. That's because Oosthuizen failed to walk on through.

After averaging more than 300 yards off the tee for the week, McIlroy hit a drive on the 15th that a 19-handicapper would curse over. The pop-up traveled only 170 yards, leaving him 240 to the green. No problem. He knocked his approach onto the green, and two putts later walked away with par.

The 17th hole, a birdie opportunity for most of the field, presented another puzzling performance from both players in the final round. McIlroy missed the fairway and then hit his approach left of the green into thick rough, leaving a delicate chip over the bunker. His chip flew the green, resulting in bogey. Once again, Oosthuizen failed to take advantage, missing the green from the center of the fairway with 9-iron in hand and also making bogey.

"Obviously I had a couple wobbles there coming in, but did enough in the early part of the round to have enough of a cushion to get the job done," McIlroy said.

There was a final bit of drama on the 18th hole with Oosthuizen having a reasonable chance at a birdie putt to force a playoff. But this was Rory's day, and it's looking more and more like Rory's year.

Come to think of it, you could just say it's Rory's time. And not even the specter of a charging Tiger Woods seems capable of changing that.

Rob Duca is an award-winning sports columnist who wrote for the Cape Cod Times for 25 years, covering golf, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins. He is now managing editor of Golf & Leisure Cape Cod magazine and has written for a variety of other publications, including Sports Illustrated, the Boston Globe, Yankee magazine and Cape Cod Life.


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