All week long, the goal for Tiger Woods was to avoid the 205 menacing bunkers at Royal Lytham & St. Annes Golf Club. He accomplished that the first three rounds, finding sand only twice and playing the two holes on which he did in 1-under par.
Sunday was a different story. Tiger found five bunkers and played the holes they occupied in a combined 6-over par, including a disastrous triple-bogey 7 on the par-4 sixth hole, essentially eliminating his title chances in the 141st Open Championship in cool and breezy Lytham St. Annes, England.
Woods, who began the final round five strokes behind leader Adam Scott, closed with a 3-over-par 73 to tie for third at 3-under 277, four shots behind winner Ernie Els. It marked his eighth top-10 showing in 13 professional starts in the Open. Tiger captured the Claret Jug in 2000, 2005 and 2006.
It was his best finish in a major since the 2009 PGA Championship, when he was runner-up to Y.E. Yang.
"We all go through these phases," said Woods, who climbed to No. 2 in the world rankings. "Some people, it lasts their entire careers. Others are a little bit shorter. Even the greatest players to ever play have gone through little stretches like this."
Paired with Brandt Snedeker in the second-to-last twosome, Woods knew he had to make up ground, but he stuck to his conservative game plan in the early going. For the first time all week, cross winds became a factor off the nearby Irish Sea, although they never reached the 30-mile-per-hour gusts that were predicted.
Tiger made a nice par save at the first hole, where his 6-iron from 214 yards skipped over the back of the green and he chipped to close range.
At the par-4 second, he played well short of the fairway bunker with an iron and had 236 yards left to the green. With the ball below his feet, Woods blistered a low 5-iron that caught the left greenside bunker, then hit a great explosion shot within two feet of the cup to save par.
Tiger parred the next three holes to stay within range of Scott, but it all came apart at the difficult, 492-yard sixth, a hole he had birdied each of the previous three rounds. After hitting a 3-wood down the fairway, he hit his second shot from 218 yards into the left greenside bunker, the ball finishing in a plugged lie near the face of the lip.
Woods considered his options, which included taking an unplayable lie, but opted to open the clubface and try to pop the ball out over the five-foot-high layers of sod. The ball didn't come close to clearing them and bounced backward to the left near the edge of the bunker, resulting in another difficult shot.
Playing from his knees from outside the bunker, he hit a marvelous shot that caught the top of the bunker and caromed onto the green, about 40 feet below the hole. He then three-putted, however, suffering his first triple bogey since the 2003 Open Championship at Royal St. George.
"I didn't have much, so I decided to go ahead and try it," Woods said of his first bunker shot. "I was trying to ricochet the ball to the right, where I would have a shot, but it went left and almost hit me."
At the par-5 seventh, Tiger mounted a comeback, chipping in for birdie from behind the green. It marked his first birdie in 15 holes.
Following a two-putt par at No. 8, Woods bogeyed the par-3 ninth, where his tee shot carried over the green in a fluffy lie and he was unable to get up and down. As a result, he made the turn in 3-over 37.
"I didn't play the front nine under-par," Woods said of his pre-round goal.
Tiger kept battling and hit a nice wedge approach from 87 yards to within four feet of the hole at the par-4 10th, converting for a birdie. For the first time all week, he hit driver off the tee at the 598-yard, par-5 11th, but hit a poor third shot and two-putted for a par from 40 feet.
At the 198-yard, par-3 12th, Woods cut a 7-iron five feet from the cup and rolled in the birdie putt. But he gave back a shot at the 355-yard, par-4 13th, the easiest hole on the course, where he drove into a right fairway bunker, blasted out, hit a wedge from 120 yards about 40 feet from the hole and two-putted for a bogey.
Tiger made another mistake at the 444-yard, par-4 14th, where he hit an iron off the tee and his ball rolled into the right fairway bunker. Again, he only could advance the ball a short distance, leaving 159 yards to the green, and was unable to save par.
Woods carded his third consecutive bogey at the 462-yard, par-4 15th, where he hit a 3-iron approach shot from 240 yards into the left greenside bunker and encountered another awkward stance. Standing with both feet outside the sand, he nearly holed the shot, but the ball rolled 10 feet past the pin and he missed the putt.
Tiger also used driver for the first time at the 336-yard, par-4 16th hole, but pulled it into the deep fescue rough just left of the green. He gouged his second shot short of the green, chipped to five feet and made the par putt.
Woods made a nice up-and-down par save from short-right of the green at the par-4 17th, his well-executed bump-and-run shot stopping a foot from the cup.
At the par-4 18th, he finished in style. Tiger nestled his approach shot 12 feet above the hole and received a warm ovation from the fans as he reached the green, removing his cap to acknowledge them. Woods poured in the left-to-right birdie putt, the ball sneaking inside the right side of the cup.
Tiger didn't second-guess his conservative strategy off the tee. Not that he wasn't frustrated.
"I think I did the right things all week," Woods said. "Unfortunately, I made the triple bogey and made a couple sloppy bogeys on the back nine, or I'm right in it."