Greg Hansen: Putter's AWOL, so Woods is MIA

2012-02-24T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Putter's AWOL, so Woods is MIAGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2012 12:00 am  • 

At 2:30 Thursday afternoon, two white Cadillac Escalade ESVs parked on a dirt road outside the Walter Hagen Club. Each had a sign in the windshield that said "Player Evacuation."

Personnel from the Conquistadores stood nearby, on alert, waiting for a signal to retrieve the next golfer to be eliminated from the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. They were shadowing, of all people, Tiger Woods.

Inside the Hagen Club, five marshals held up "QUIET" signs. Patrons, lined up seven deep, put down their drinks. Bartenders stopped pouring. Revelers came to attention. It was almost like a scene from "Casey at the Bat."

Then from 2,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell; it rumbled through the Hagen Club, it rattled clear to hell.

It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled in the hut; for Tiger, mighty Tiger, was advancing to his putt.

Woods was lining up a 10-foot- 8-inch birdie putt. The only audible sound was Snoopy II, the Met Life blimp.

To that point, the longest putt Woods had made all day was 3 feet 7 inches for a routine par at the sixth hole.

He had missed a 14-foot-4-incher for birdie at No. 1.

He had missed a 13-foot-6-inch eagle putt at No. 2.

He had missed a 15-foot-2-inch birdie putt at No. 4.

He had missed a 5-foot-2-inch par putt at No. 7.

He had missed an 11-foot-2-inch birdie putt at No. 8.

About all you could say, in hushed tones was, "you're due Tiger." Past due. Delinquent.

He missed.

As Woods walked to the 14th tee, 2 down to a former Fresno State golfer named Nick Watney, the Player Evacuation vehicles took a side trail up Dove Mountain, where the 14th, 15th and 16th holes merge at another party center, the Canyon Club.

At 14, Woods missed a 9-foot-1-inch birdie putt. It became painful to watch a man who once made 9-foot-1-inch putts with ridiculous ease seem so baffled. Nearby, the Escalades idled, waiting and watching.

In his two-day stay at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, Dove Mountain, Woods was mystified by the greens. This is a guy who used to be able to read greens in any of five languages and at any altitude, in the gloaming and in a rainstorm.

"They are grainy," he said. "I've asked some of the guys this week, 'Are you struggling?', and they said, 'Yeah, they're hard to read.'

"Sometimes the green takes it, but sometimes you've got to factor in the valley. They're tricky. They're very difficult to read."

This is a man who has mastered the slickest and most confounding greens on the planet, from Augusta National to St. Andrews. And he couldn't make a putt in Marana, Arizona.

At the 16th green, Woods rolled in a 4-foot-10-inch par putt and 2,000 people ringing that hole let loose with a thunderous roar you could hear back at the clubhouse a half-mile away. You'd have thought he won the Masters, but it was a par putt from 4 feet 10 inches

At 17, Woods missed a 29-foot- 4-inch birdie putt. On most days, he would've needed a birdie at 18 to tie Watney and force a playoff. But on Thursday, he needed a golfing miracle.

At 18, Woods stiffed a 185-yard iron shot, dead on the pin, spinning to a stop 5 feet 5 inches from the cup. Over the first two days of this Match Play spectacle, it was the Shot of the Tournament.

Watney was so certain Woods would make it that he began to study his yardage book, trying to decide what club he would hit off the tee at No. 1, the first playoff hole.

"No question," he said. I thought he was going to make it."

But on Feb. 24, 2012, a 5-foot- 5-inch putt for Tiger Woods might as well have been 25 feet, 5 inches. To that point, his two longest putts of the day were 4 feet 10 inches and 3 feet 7 inches.

In his glory days, Woods would've buried that 5-footer and been so far under-par that Watney would've been on the next plane to Fresno. But on Thursday, it was The Putt Too Far.

The groan vibrated through the crowd, down the Wild Burro Wash and toward Sombrero Peak.

Woods retreated to the clubhouse putting green, pausing for two TV interviews and, later, for a group interview behind the clubhouse.

"I'm as perplexed as anybody," he said. "My putter was going back a little bit shut."

The Player Evacuation vehicles had long since stopped shadowing Woods. The crowd dispersed and went home. Tiger Woods walked alone, in silence, toward the locker room. Mighty Casey had struck out.

Match of the day

No. 1 Rory McIlroy vs. No. 13 Miguel Angel Jimenez, 12:02 p.m.

• Jimenez is a 48-year-old grinder, nicknamed "The Mechanic," going against the Now Generation's McIlroy, defending U.S. Open champion, the glamour name of the 16 remaining golfers. Couldn't get a more dramatic contrast.

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