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Woods goes plop at No. 18, watering down his chances

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BETHESDA -- It was a swoosh, but not the kind Tiger Woods would want you to remember.

This one was an iron shot that sailed high into the air and tailed off sharply to the left, following the familiar, flipping arc of the Nike logo.

The ball landed high on the bank of a pond beside the 18th green at Congressional Country Club, bounced twice down the hill and went for a swim.

Call it the plop heard round the world, and a most surprising plop at that.

It was the sound of Woods crashing in the first round of the U.S. Open yesterday, which certainly wasn't in the script envisioned by Nike, Rolex, American Express, Titleist, the International Management Group and the millions of Tigermaniacs around the world.

Rolling along at 2-under par through 10 holes, he had an enormous gallery in his thrall on an afternoon that began cloudy and turned sunny and hot.

But he lost six strokes to par on the last eight holes to finish with a 74 that left him nine shots behind the leader, Colin Montgomerie.

He isn't out of contention yet, but he'll need a strong round today to overcome what amounted to the evil twin of his first-day round at the Masters, in which he shot 40 on the front nine and 30 on the back.

"What is going through your mind right now?" asked a pool reporter who spoke to Woods in a players' lounge after Woods declined to speak to a group of reporters at an interview area behind the clubhouse.

"You don't want to know," Woods said.

Tom Lehman, who played with Woods and defending Open champion Steve Jones, finished seven strokes ahead of Woods.

"Did you feel you were going head-to-head with Tiger?" Lehman was asked.

"No," he said.

Yeah, sure.

Lehman and other PGA Tour veterans have quietly seethed at the hysteria surrounding Woods, Lehman even saying, "Tiger is put on a pedestal like he's untouchable, and I don't think that's accurate."

Woods isn't unpopular among his fellow players, but you can be sure a lot of them were pleased to see Lehman smoke him like a cigar.

The strange part was Woods seemed on his way to a quality round when he rolled in an 8-foot birdie putt on No. 10, but he blew up after his drive on the next hole stopped in the high rough left of the fairway. He shanked his escape shot across the fairway into the right rough and wound up with a double-bogey.

He parred the next three holes, then bogeyed No. 15 after driving into the left rough again. That left him at 2-over, not a total disaster. Then he came to No. 18, a 190-yard par-3. After Lehman put his 6-iron shot near the pin, Woods pulled out a 7-iron and, well, the ball went swoosh and his day went from disappointing to disastrous.

"I just hit a bad shot," he told the pool reporter.

The scene after the round was sort of a Great Gatsby meets a '90s jock kind of thing, which is certainly an interesting visual.

A microphone was set up by the glistening pool at the exclusive club as a U.S. Golf Association official checked the sound and pledged that Woods was coming.

Well, Woods came all right, and then he went -- right by the microphone, the pool, the press, everybody.

After stopping to sign his scorecard, he bounded up a set of steps and he was gone.

"Stay where you are, I'm bringing him back!" a USGA official shouted to reporters.

Good luck.

The official came back 20 minutes later with the news that Woods had spoken to the pool reporter and that was going to be it.

"Where is Tiger?" someone shouted.

"Tiger is in the car," the official said.

Elvis had left the building and Tiger was in the car.

"He got some unfortunate luck out there," said Lehman on a day when nine of 156 golfers broke par. "He hit a couple of balls that went up against the thick rough where he had impossible chips. He hit a couple of putts that looked like they couldn't miss, and did. He hit a couple of bad shots, like everyone does. I'm sure he's not pleased, but he didn't play that badly and I'm sure he'll do a lot better tomorrow."

If not, Tigermania returns to earth and the rest of the golf world returns from the invisible.

That's certainly a possibility seeing as Woods has failed to break par in five straight rounds going back to the last round of the Colonial last month. He's a combined 12-over par in those 90 holes, numbers that suggest that, well, he just isn't playing that well.

On the other hand, Woods has a long history of elevating his game and coming from behind in championship play, if you can have a long history at age 21.

"I will be all right tomorrow," Woods told the pool reporter.

"And there's no way [Montgomerie] can play four rounds like he did today," Lehman said.

Woods did have four birdies yesterday, an indication that all wasn't lost.

But in the end, there was the swoosh and the plop and he was down on the leader board tied with guys named Coltart and Brito and Porter. Then he was "in the car."

Human, after all. How did that get in the script?

Pub Date: 6/13/97

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