Tiger goes nowhere at Merion

Tiger Woods reacts to a missed birdie putt on the ninth green while fans watch from a hillside at Merion's East Course. Woods shot a 74 and finished 12 shots behind winner Justin Rose.
Tiger Woods reacts to a missed birdie putt on the ninth green while fans watch from a hillside at Merion's East Course. Woods shot a 74 and finished 12 shots behind winner Justin Rose. (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 17, 2013

Though the round signified nothing, the sound and fury surrounding it spoke to Tiger Woods' enormous appeal.

Occasionally on Sunday, when an out-of-contention Woods still managed to attract an enormous gallery, the wind at Merion seemed to howl his name.

"Tiger!" the constant cry came from wherever he popped into view. "Tiger! . . . Tiger!"

Nothing could diminish the fans' hunger for him to succeed, a hunger that on this day, this week, went unsated.

"I'm sorry that the golf wasn't what I like to have it be," Woods said afterward.

He was 9 back when his day began at 12:02 p.m., 14 behind when it ended almost exactly four hours later, and still they stood 10 to 15 deep along the fairways. A final-round 74 capped his worst U.S. Open ever, and still they trudged up and down hills to be near him. His steely focus barely allowed him to acknowledge their presence, and still they shouted their encouragement.

"Tiger, you can do this!" one fan yelled after Woods sank a 15-footer for an opening-hole birdie.

"Tiger, have some fun today!" screamed another.

The fun, for Woods anyway, ended quickly.

Any thoughts of a Johnny Miller comeback on the final day of this 2013 U.S. Open disappeared when he - and shortly afterward his drive - crossed Ardmore Avenue.

His tee shot on the par-5 second hole went out-of-bounds, soaring across the road that bisects the course and was clogged with fans. His second effort barely stayed safe, settling in the deep rough beside a pine tree. He reached the green in 5 and three-putted for a triple-bogey eight that ruined his day but not his gallery's.

Some of the spectators' interest could be attributed to Woods' status as perhaps the most recognizable face in sports. But there was more at work at Merion.

Early in the week, Woods had heaped praise on Philadelphia's typically abused sports fans, calling them some of the best in the country. Now they appeared to be repaying the compliment.

"How many chances do you get to be this close to a guy who's like the Babe Ruth of golf?" said Chad Potts of Philadelphia from his seat beneath the ropes along the eighth fairway. "I really don't care how he's doing. I just want to be able to tell my kids I saw Tiger Woods."

Behind the sixth green in a makeshift gallery between Darby Road and Merion's fence, the thick crowd of non-paying customers who poked their heads over the green barrier were just as intrigued.

When Woods, eyes focused directly ahead, sipping from a bottle of water caddie Joe LaCava had just handed him, walked from that green to the seventh tee, those fans raised a battery of cameras and cellphones to record their brush with the man who's been stuck on 14 majors for five full years now.

"I've been here since about 8," Mike Gallagher of Havertown said at 1:17 p.m. "This is really cool."

Afterward, during a typically unrevealing dissection of another disappointing major performance, Woods again talked about the Philadelphia fans, who showed similar support for his AT&T Tournament at Aronomink in 2010 and 2011.

"It was a fantastic atmosphere," he said.

"The people were into it. Obviously, there weren't as many people as some of the U.S. Open sites. But this was, I think, more intimate."

Eventually, as Woods' total rose to its final resting place of plus-13, there was some minor erosion in that support.

As he walked up the seventh fairway, eyes straight ahead as always, someone noted that "he looks like a robot."

"Come on, Phil!" another fan shouted to widespread laughter.

Then, while Woods was standing over his second shot in the eighth fairway, the wisecracks came from both sides, though typically the golfer in his familiar Sunday color scheme of red and black gave no indication he had heard anything.

A fan in the rough yelled what was true not just of Woods but of every golfer in this battered Open field:

"The course beat you, Tiger!"

Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com. Follow @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.

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