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Woods slips to irrelevance

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — A quick summary of Saturday's play in the third round of the British Open is as follows: Louie Oosthuizen maintained, Paul Casey charged and Tiger Woods remained invisible.

This is getting serious.

The man who lived for majors, who has won 14, is now dying in them. The engine who used to drive golf is having serious carburetor problems.

If we take him at his word, all can be fixed with a few more putts dropping into cups. That has been the theme, and it continued to be after his second straight 1-over round of 73 Saturday.

"I'm driving it great, and I was grinding out there today," Woods said. "I'm just not making putts."

Of course, the issue — and concern — is not just of his doing, but ours, too. We are spoiled.

We have come to assume that there will be a charge, that the chip shot will roll down the hill on the banked green on the closing day of the Masters, stop at the cup with logo facing up — just long enough to present Nike with a million-dollar free ad — and drop in for the birdie in the deciding moment.

We take for granted one-hop chips into the cup at Torrey Pines, as well as impossible birdies from the rough on the 72nd hole of the U.S. Open there, making us watch another day as he limps to a playoff victory. Even though he was close, Rocco Mediate never had a chance. We knew that. The world knew that.

Suddenly, they all seem to have a chance.

The big leaderboard is 12 deep here, and Woods never made an appearance Saturday.

Yes, he had the knee injury that put him out after Torrey Pines in 2008. And yes, he had the "marital excursion," as the British call it. But it has been eight majors now without Woods hoisting the big trophy, and the image of invincibility is taking some hits.

Was the 2009 PGA the first hint? Should our antennas have been up after Y.E. Yang stopped Woods' streak of 14 straight major victories when leading after 54 holes? Yipes! Y.E. Yang. That was, after all, pre-Cadillac-Gate.

The Tiger Comeback of 2010 couldn't have been set up better. There was the Masters, wide-open spaces, Tiger-friendly. He had already won four times there.

Then there was the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Over the years, he hadn't just played Pebble, he'd owned it. His victory there in the 2000 Open was a 15-shot tail-whipping.

Now we get to another warm-and-fuzzy place for Woods, St. Andrews and the British Open. The last two times they played it here, in 2000 and 2005, he raised the claret jug, and with some ease.

But now, the putts aren't sinking, his game's not clicking and it's anybody's guess as to why.

Greatness can't last forever, but Woods isn't even 35 yet. Besides, for a while there, it wasn't so much greatness as immortality we were viewing. Still, with 12 shots to make up, he needs the Miracle of St. Andrews.

Failing that, we seem to have a superstar whose greatness keeps sliding past the cup.

bdwyre@tribune.com

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