MAMARONECK, N.Y. – The longest layoff in Tiger Woods' career ended with his shortest week at a major.
Woods kept thinking he was one putt or one shot away from turning it around Friday in the U.S. Open until there was nothing left to do but tap in for another bogey, sign for another 76 and head home.
The results weren't final until everyone finished the second round at Winged Foot, but Woods knew the score. At 12 over par, he was certain to miss the cut for the first time in his 10 years as a professional.
"It's not something you want to have happen," Woods said. "Unfortunately, I missed this one."
Perhaps it was the rust from not having played since the final round of the Masters in April. Maybe his mind was cluttered by memories of his father, Earl, who died May 3 of cancer. Someone even suggested that he would have been better off playing two weeks ago in the Memorial as a tuneup instead of making his return at the toughest test in golf.
Woods shook his head each time.
"When you don't execute, you're not going to be happy either way," Woods said. "I don't care if you had what transpired in my life of recent or not. Poor execution is never going to feel very good."
Woods might have known he was in trouble midway through his round, when a shot that appeared to be headed just left of the flag on the 16th hole clipped the top of a tree. It rattled through the branches and landed on a cart path, than caromed 20 yards to the left and landed against a chain-link fence in a bunker on the East Course at Winged Foot, which isn't being used this week.
He dropped into caked mud in the trap, had no option but to pitch into the bunker short of the flag and made double bogey.
The other message came late in his round.
Woods was playing his best golf from the worst lies to salvage pars, and he was at 10 over par when he stepped onto the sixth green to size up a 60-foot putt. He looked at the scoreboard behind the green to see Steve Stricker had finished his round with a birdie on the final hole for a 69 and a 36-hole score of 1-under 139.
The U.S. Open has a rule that anyone within 10 shots of the lead makes the cut.
The gallery groaned when the score was posted, knowing that Woods was 11 shots out of the lead. Instead of making up ground, he went backward. First came a bogey from the rough on No. 8, and then a sloppy bogey on the ninth, his final hole.
From the first cut of rough, his approach came up 15 yards short of the green. What followed was a poor chip by anyone's standards, and Woods marched after it angrily when it scooted some 20 feet by the hole. The par putt never had a chance.
Even if scores continued to spiral in the afternoon, 60 of the 77 players still on the course had to finish lower than Woods. It was time to warm up the engines on his yacht, where he had stayed for the week.
"Toughest conditions in the world at a major championship, first time coming back after nine weeks off, his father passing away. I mean, my God, you've got to give him credit for actually turning up," said defending champion Michael Campbell, who also missed the cut while playing with Woods. "He's pretty focused, but the intensity wasn't there as it normally is."
Woods had finished no worse than a tie for fourth in his last five majors, including victories at the 2005 Masters and British Open. This was only the fourth time in his career that Woods missed the cut at any tournament. His PGA Tour record of 142 consecutive cuts ended last year at the Byron Nelson Championship, and he also missed cuts at Disney late last year, and at the Canadian Open in 1997.
Since the Masters instituted a cut in 1957 and the PGA Championship switched to stroke play in 1958, Woods and Jack Nicklaus have gone the longest without missing the cut in a major at 39. Woods' streak started in the 1996 U.S. Open as an amateur.
Sam Snead went 46 consecutive majors without finishing worse than a tie for 33rd.
It would be easy to look at the number of times Woods played out of the rough — he hit only seven of 28 fairways — but he wasn't sharp in any aspect of his game.
"I guess I'm not surprised he's struggling," Jay Haas said. "He's still the best player in the world. You just cannot be so-so out here."
Oddly enough, his most marginal shots came from the short grass. From the first cut of rough on the 14th hole, he missed the green to the right and chunked his chip, then compounded the error with three putts for a double bogey. And after one of his best tee shots of the round on No. 4, leaving 173 yards to the hole, his approach sailed to the right, and Woods spun and dropped his club.
He three-putted from the fringe for a bogey that left him battling not for the lead, but for a tee time Saturday.
"Marginal shots are just going to get killed here," Woods said. "It's just the nature of the golf course."
In between was a series of remarkable shots that at least gave him a chance. He twice saved par on holes where a bogey looked like it would be the best he could do — a full flop shot behind the 18th green that settled 4 feet from the cup, and a chip from mangled grass around a bunker on No. 1 in which the ball went 18 feet by the hole, then rolled down a ridge within 3 feet.
"I felt like if I just kept going, kept plodding along, I could have turned it around any time with one putt or one shot," he said.
Not since the '96 PGA Championship, when Woods was still an amateur, has he not been around on the weekend at a major. Next up is two weeks off. Woods said he likely will return to the Western Open in Chicago, his final tune-up for the British Open.