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The Tiger magic vanishes at Turnberry

Martin Rogers
Yahoo Sports

TURNBERRY, Scotland – It finally hit Tiger Woods, just as he stepped off the 18th green and straight into an empty weekend.

Hunger.

Woods could be forgiven for reaching first for a stiff measure of the warming liquid of several famed local distilleries, such was the stress and tribulation he went through Friday.

Instead, as he contemplated only his second missed cut in 49 career majors, it was a hearty meal that was his solace for British Open failure.

Yet in the preceding windswept hours that whisked his tournament hopes out into the Firth of Clyde, the golfing hunger, the burning drive which has sealed Woods' immortality, was missing.

Woods' desire to win at anything he turns his hand to can never be questioned, more of an intrinsic need than a wish. But, on this most bizarre of days, there was simply no opportunity for the world No. 1 to allow that ferocious inner craving to fester, as his game was blown to pieces in a way few imagined possible.

How Steve Marino, a British Open rookie, and 59-year-old Tom Watson came to be sitting 10 shots ahead of the greatest player to walk the planet would confound even the most imaginative of scriptwriters.

Woods wanted to fight, wanted to feel that click within himself that switched on his highest gear. Unlike Day 1, when his temper raged, obscenities flew and clubs were hurled onto Turnberry's coarse reeds, he kept his emotions in check.

But the moment never came, the real Tiger never burst out of hiding and flashed his saber-teeth.

His birdie-birdie rally on 16 and 17 that gave him a sniff of a chance that was borne of desperation rather than any genuine cohesion and rhythm filtering into his game. And his grim walk down 18 spawned a stunning reality in the minds of those following his group.

Could it be that there was a sense of inevitability about the Friday fate of this man who has made a career out of delivering the impossible? And could it really be that the inevitable on this occasion wasn't that he would escape the jaws of the cut, but that he wouldn't?

The galleries surrounding Woods, Lee Westwood and Ryo Ishikawa swelled significantly by mid-afternoon. Like so many vultures circling, the prospect of that rarest of Woods collectors items – a missed cut – attracted a somewhat macabre element.

A third straight birdie on 18 would all but guarantee a weekend ticket. But it wasn't to be, as his approach trickled off the back of the green, rolling his hopes away with it. The damage had already been done in any case, a round that unraveled with seven shots dropped in six holes.

"It was just problem after problem," said Woods. "I kept compounding my problems out there. I hit bad tee shots, bad iron shots and I didn't get it up and down. Kept making mistake after mistake."

As the day wound down, the radio phone-ins were already exchanging lively banter, going to and fro over what was the biggest story of the day. Was it Watson, the former champion with a smile that somehow comes across as that of a legend and a grandfather at the same time? Or was it the demise of Woods?

Watson's tale is a glorious one, the fantastic sight of a master having the time of his life. But it is the troubles of Woods that is the most significant happening of this event, as it potentially may be a signal of things to come.

It is hard to believe for a moment that Woods will stop winning for as long as he deigns to pick up a golf club. He is a man born to succeed and when he gets himself in contention, he will.

Those who think he will struggle to overtake Jack Nicklaus' haul of 18 majors are dabbling with foolhardiness. There is no more dangerous opponent than Woods to stake money or reputation on the flip side of.

However, the true legacy of his absence from the game and his knee problems could be that there are a few more days like this one, when it just doesn't go right. There can be no greater challenge than links golf in a teasing wind. And, this time, Woods had no answer.

The Sunday red can stay packed away this time, but it will surely be seen in triumphant circumstances soon. The brilliance, the strut, the game and the hunger will be back – but they may no longer be ever-present.

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