TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A remarkable string of golf came to a close for Tiger Woods on a steamy Sunday afternoon when he failed to mount the miraculous comeback that both he and his fans somehow expected in the U.S. Open.
For the first time in five major championships, Woods wasn't holding the champion's trophy aloft. Perhaps more shockingly, he was a mere also-ran as he played his way down the finishing holes at Southern Hills.
The Open was still to be decided when Woods, alone in his car after a day in which he was surrounded by tens of thousands, drove out of the country club parking lot.
``I played as hard as I could,'' Woods said. ``I tried on every shot and there's no regrets.''
Not for Woods, maybe. But there were for those who wanted to watch another piece of magic from a player who has already etched a deep spot in the game's history books.
An unprecedented even money favorite to win the Open, Woods instead finished with his second straight 69 for a 3-over 283 total. It was the first time in 41 tournaments he had failed to break par.
Relieved that the streak was over? No. Tired? Definitely.
``I don't think people really understand how difficult it is on you to keep putting yourself there and the stress it puts on you coming down the back nine on Sunday with a chance to win,'' Woods said. ``More times than not it wears you out.''
Woods teased the throngs who followed him early with some spectacular shots that hinted of a possible charge from nine shots back. He reached the monster 642-yard fifth hole in two and was 2 under through seven.
``Bless you, Tiger,'' a woman called out as he walked to the seventh green.
In the end, though, the cheers that washed over the 18th green weren't for him this time. They belonged to Rocco Mediate, who was making a birdie putt on the adjacent ninth green as Woods finished a week that never was.
``It was fun to win four majors in a row, there's no doubt about that,'' Woods said. ``Unfortunately, I'm not out there with the chance to win. That is frustrating, but I've had my share. And, hopefully, I can have my share in the future.''
There's little doubt of that for the player already recognized as the greatest of his era at the tender age of 25. But for one week, at least, the golf course got the better of him.
Woods blamed it on a swing that just wouldn't cooperate in the first two rounds. Others said it might have been a course that gave others a more equal chance.
Southern Hills is full of doglegs and big trees, and for the Open it had only two par-5s, where Woods usually dominates.
``The golf course equalized him,'' Matt Gogel said. ``It didn't allow him to use his driver. I think he was playing from a spot most of us were playing from.''
Woods began the final day without the numbers on his side. Being 9 behind was bad enough. Having 22 players in front of him made it worse.
The third-round leaders hadn't even arrived at the course when Woods took a driver off the first tee and promptly hit it in the rough. On the next hole he hit it into the trees and made bogey to go an even 10 shots down.
Then he began looking like the real Tiger Woods.
A short iron to 3 feet on No. 4 brought a birdie. On the next hole, Woods muscled a drive some 360 yards and followed it with a 3-wood that put him on the green of the longest par-5 in Open history and he two putted for another birdie. A third birdie followed on No. 7.
The ninth hole, though, got him again. Woods made double bogey there the first day and he spun an iron off the front of the green to make bogey again Sunday.
He stood looking at the scoreboard to see where he stood. By then, it didn't really matter.
``Once I realized that there really wasn't a chance to win, you've still got to fight,'' Woods said. ``You can't bag it. You can't dog it coming in.''
True to himself, Woods didn't. He played the back nine even par to finish with his second straight 69. The two weekend scores weren't bad, but the 74-71 he began with did Woods in.
All that was left was to change his shoes in the clubhouse, and head out while players with names like Retief Goosen, Stewart Cink and Mark Brooks battled for the trophy that was supposed to be his for a second year in a row.
But not without a few laughs first. He had one when asked if it was the most disappointed he's been after a major in a long time.
``Considering I won the last four, yes,'' Woods said.