CARNOUSTIE, Scotland (Reuters) - Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy shared hugs outside the scoring room at the British Open either side of a brief private chat, two champions experiencing similar disappointment after coming up short at Carnoustie on Sunday.
Two hours earlier, Woods had one hand on the Claret Jug for what would have been the fourth time after surging to the lead with a flawless front nine on a day when the previously missing wind finally bared some teeth.
But a double-bogey at the par-four 11th, where he failed to pull off a delicate flop shot from beyond the green, proved the undoing of the 14-times major champion.
He maintained his unwanted record of never having won a major starting the final round from behind.
Woods said it felt like old times. The 42-year-old who has gone more than a decade without winning one of golf’s four biggest championships.
“I had a great opportunity,” he said after shooting 71 to finish equal sixth, three strokes behind winner Francesco Molinari.
“I know it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I am now, (I feel) blessed.”
The “where I was” referred to the years of debilitating back pain that was finally solved by a spinal fusion last April, allowing him to resume his career after four years of severely-curtailed appearances.
Sunday’s result was not what many of the thousands who tracked through the humps and hollows of the links course wanted, though it probably was for the male spectator who heckled Woods as he hit his drive at the final hole.
Woods was visibly upset, his anger perhaps assuaged when his drive finished on the edge of the fairway.
“That was too close to the game of play,” he said.
“I flinched, but I’ve had things like that happen a lot in my career with people who tried to time it.
“People are trying to yell out things to try to be on TV or be on social media or whatever it may be.”
Woods had been surprised to find himself leading so quickly after starting the day four shots from the lead.
“Today I did everything I thought I needed to do to win the championship,” he said, adding that he expected a consolation phone call from tennis champion Serena Williams, who lost the Wimbledon final eight days ago.
If Woods is no longer “the” man, he showed his run as a major contender is not done.
“This was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said.
“Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back. Today was a good day for both of us, I guess.”
Reporting by Andrew Both, editing by Ed Osmond