Along with the Sunday red, the balky back, and the fire hydrant, another part of the Tiger Woods mythology is that all 14 of his Major championships have come when he’s held a share of the lead heading into the final round. Until 2009, in fact, Woods could boast always converting when holding a share of the third-round lead. Then along came Y.E. Yang, and well, you probably know the rest.
But the other way to look at it is Woods has never won a Major coming from behind, and given his narrow four-stroke deficit heading into the final round at Bellerive, it’s worth looking at the times he’s at least come close. Because he has, plenty of times in fact. It’s worth noting that of the 25 times Woods has finished in the top 10 in a Major and not won, there were 17 occasions when a comeback victory was at least within reach, including last month in the Open Championship at Carnoustie.
Here they are:
1999 US Open at Pinehurst: Two back through 54 holes; finished two back
2002 PGA Championship at Hazeltine: Five back through 54; finished one back
2003 Open Championship at Royal St Georges: two back through 54; finished two back
2005 US Open at Pinehurst: six back through 54, finished two back
2005 PGA Championship at Baltusrol: six back through 54; finished two back
2006 Masters: two back through 54; finished three back
2007 Masters: one back through 54; finished two back
2007 US Open at Oakmont: two back through 54; finished one back
2008 Masters: six back through 54; finished three back
2009 Masters: seven back through 54; finished four back
2010 Masters: four back through 54; finished five back
2010 US Open at Pebble Beach: five back through 54, finished three back
2011 Masters: seven back through 54; finished four back
2012 Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes: five back through 54, finished four back
2013 Masters: four back through 54, finished four back
2013 Open Championship at Muirfield: two back through 54, finished five back
2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie: four back through 54, finished three back
The chronology underscores how many times Woods has had a chance to add to an already remarkable Major haul. On six occasions, most recently at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, Woods was within two shots of the 54-hole lead, only to come up short. And there were a handful of other occasions when a late move on Sunday put him even closer. Most notably there was Carnoustie, when Woods was four back to start the day, grabbed the solo lead through 10 holes, only to play the next two holes in three over and never recover.
But that round comes in a season when Woods is still shaking off plenty of competitive rust. It was his first time in contention in a Major in years, and Woods defenders would argue that it still exceeded this season’s modest expectations. A handful of misses earlier in his career, meanwhile, came at a time when Woods was at the height of his dominance, and might haunt him even more. Twice Woods has finished one stroke back of the winner: his runner-up to Rich Beem at Hazeltine in 2002 featured a spirited rally late that left him one shot shy of the unlikely PGA champ; and at Oakmont in 2007, when he needed a missed a 30-footer on the 72nd hole to tie Angel Cabrera.
The hardest one of all, however, might have been when Woods finished runner-up to Michael Campbell in the 2005 US Open at Pinehurst. After a sluggish start to the final round, Woods rattled off four straight birdies on the back nine, only to miss a short par putt on the 16th and three-putt the 17th. He finished two strokes back, and is still looking for the first comeback Major win of his career. Who knows? Maybe it comes Sunday.