For the 21st consecutive major played, Tiger Woods did not win. Trailing Lee Westwood by two shots entering the final round of the 2013 Open Championship at Muirfield, Woods shot 3-over 74 to finish tied for sixth.
For the 46th time in Woods’ major championship career, he failed to win a major championship without at least a share of the 54-hole lead.
It’s a shot here and there, Woods suggested at the start of the week in Scotland — the difference in him catching Jack Nicklaus’ major tally, or simply being the second-greatest major champion in golf history.
Woods has been stuck on 14 major championships since winning the 2008 U.S. Open in a 19-hole sudden-death playoff over Rocco Mediate. Since that week at Torrey Pines, he’s played in 17 majors, missing the cut in two of them.
In nine of those 15 majors where he got to play on Sunday, Woods entered the final round inside the top 10. Four of those times, he improved his position. The other five, he lost ground. But in those nine, Woods never gained or lost more than five spots on the final leaderboard.
Over the course of his entire career, Woods averages a gains of a single spot between the third and final round of the majors in which he trails after 54 holes.
However, a trend has developed where Woods may need more than just one shot here and there.
In nine of the last 13 major final rounds Woods has played without at least a share of the 54-hole lead, he has lost position to the field in on Sunday. To lose ground, that’s at least a shot. As it turns out, it’s closer to four shots.
Naturally, Woods has not outplayed the eventual winner of those 13 majors on Sunday. On average, Woods has been beaten by that winner by 3.61 shots on Sunday. He lost to Phil Mickelson by eight shots in the final day at Muirfield.
Looking back at how Woods and the winner compared in the 13 majors before the ’09 PGA, the current world No. 1 only lost 0.23 strokes on Sunday. From almost even to almost four shots? That’s a lot.
Taking an even broader view, compare Woods’ recent run of backtracking to the previous 33 majors where Woods trailed going into the final round. Woods lost ground on just nine of those Sundays. Most of those drops down the leaderboard took place in two of his first four professional majors, during his 1998 swing change with Butch Harmon and when Woods made the switch to Hank Haney beginning at the ’03 Open Championship.
There has to be an explanation. There’s a common thread. No, not the divorce. Not the fire hydrant. None of that. It all began at the 2009 PGA Championship.
It was one pivotal spot, but Woods went from first to second, turning a two-shot lead through three rounds at Hazeltine into a three-shot loss to Y.E. Yang.
Here’s the hypothesis du jour, then: The shots here and there are the result of a mental block that Woods has been unable to push past since that Sunday duel with Yang. Woods may still have lost all of the last 12 majors since his Hazeltine letdown, but he may have been more competitive against the winning player and at least given himself a better chance to steal a major from in back of the Saturday-night lead.
What can Woods do about it? Take a step he’s is too proud to do and call a sports psychologist.