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The Open: Tiger Woods facing up to plane truth

RAF Leuchars to Orlando, Florida is a familiar routing for Tiger Woods's private jet but last night the in-flight service lacked a certain elegance.

Usually, well, at least in 2000 and 2005, Woods and guests could while away the hours by sipping the beverage of their choice from the Claret Jug. Not this time. The most valuable cargo in golf was not on the manifest.

Woods had the opportunity to become the first player to win three Open Championships at the Home of Golf. It did not work out and even a change back to his old putter yesterday could not spark a miracle comeback.

A couple of early birdies hinted of at least a top-ten finish but two double bogeys in the first seven holes put paid to that hope. Despite an opening 67 which suggested a return to his favourite golf course might rekindle his best form, it was not to be. The world No 1 closed with a 72 to finish at three under par and outside the top-20.

Woods finished so far behind the new champion that it was wheels up well before Louis Oosthuizen inevitably took possession of the Claret Jug. Shouldn't it be Tiger doing the runaway victory processions? Not these days, golf has changed that much.

His memories of the week? “I didn't win,” he said with stark brevity. If there was a silver lining, on his first appearance overseas since he was engulfed in scandal last winter, it was that his reception from the St Andrews gallery at the 18th hole. “The people have been fantastic all week,” he said. “Unfortunately I wasn't in the lead but still it was very warm.”

A decade ago it was Woods who was running away with the championship. He was untouchable. He won the US Open at Pebble Beach by 15 strokes and then the Open here at St Andrews by eight.

Five years later he led by from start to finish but his 14th and last major victory came at the US Open in 2008, where he hobbled to his most extraordinary triumph but was undergoing knee surgery days later.

Part of his desire to return to competitive play this season, after spending the early par of the year in therapy and trying to stay out of the public eye, was because the Major schedule looked like his list of most favourable courses. Seven of his 14 major titles had come at Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St Andrews.

This was the season for him to take a serious stab at getting closer to Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major titles. But they have come and gone. “That's just the way it goes,” he said. “I'm not going to win all of them. I've lost a lot more than I've won. The good

news is that I've half of my majors away from these venues.”

His frustration this week was partly due to his fine driving, traditionally the weak part of his game. But he could not make the putts which always, always saved him. “It's ironic, as soon as I start driving it on a string, I miss everything,” he said. “Maybe I should go back to spraying it all over the lot and make everything.”

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