Here was the coverage of the first half of Tiger Woods's year: No one challenged him on Sunday at Augusta, or at Bethpage Black, so all the top contenders belonged in the Westminster Dog Show. Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia and Retief Goosen and Vijay Singh weren't just dogs, they were choking dogs, with hearts small enough to mark their balls with, and the mere sight of Woods's name at the top of a leaderboard made them want to find other work. You heard it all and read it all, especially during the period between Bethpage and the British Open, when everyone decided Woods was a mortal lock to win the Grand Slam.
Then a funny thing happened on the way to that Grand Slam.
A perfect storm hit the British Open on Saturday, and Tiger Woods shot eighty-one. Considering the stakes, it will go down as the worst single round of his entire career, and one of the worst—even with the awful conditions—a great player has ever played. Then Rich Beem did what no mortal man was supposed to be able to do: He stared Tiger down on the final day of a major and beat him straight up. Beem, with a career total of three appearances in major championships and two PGA Tour victories in the books, drove the ball better (this was the tournament when it became clear Tiger was afraid of his own Nike driver), made more big putts and provided the kind of drama that Tiger usually provides in settings like this—including the back-nine eagle that stretched his lead to three shots and buckled Woods's legs.
Finally, somebody played against Tiger the way Tiger usually plays against the world. When Tiger saw -10 go up next to Beem's name, he promptly three-putted from twelve feet, then left a par putt short on the next hole. Even if he did finish with four thrilling birdies in a row—a Nicklaus-like curtain call—he was gone.
Of course media types talked about the four birdies instead of the two bogeys because that is the way Woods is covered. But bad weather didn't get him at the PGA. Beem got him. Grand Slam not happening; golf happening.
Meanwhile the Tiger lovers in the media, and they are legion, kept making excuses for him. His sloppy eighty-one at Muirfield?The Tiger lovers tried to make it sound more heroic than a miner rescue, as if Woods were the only one who had played in bad weather that day.
"I tried all the way around," he said afterward.