He couldn't get hold of the lead and he has yet to prove he can win a major without it.
If you don't think Tiger Woods has arrived at a crossroad in his career, you haven't been paying attention.
''I think Justin Leonard was 5 or 6 shots back when he won here,'' Woods said Saturday at the British Open, sounding more defensive than hopeful.
So, this is what it's come to.
The moment after he scythed down the field at the 1997 Masters, Woods became the game's gold standard. No matter the subject, he was the reference point. Every discussion about what was possible in golf came down to him sooner or later. Everybody talked about being inspired, intimidated or challenged by him.
But two years and counting into Woods' major championship drought, all that has changed. Woods now refers to others when discussing possibilities, and it's no longer just Jack Nicklaus. And all those others now refer to Woods as just another one of the boys.
''There's a number of guys that have a great chance at the championship tomorrow,'' said Phil Mickelson, who is two strokes off the lead.
''This is a hell of a leaderboard,'' said Ernie Els, who lurks just one shot behind journeyman Todd Hamilton. ''These are quality players, players who have proven themselves throughout the years.''
''It's a pretty good leaderboard, isn't it?'' concurred Hamilton. ''And I'm not one to shy away from looking at leaderboards.''
Woods shot a front-end loaded, 3-under 68 in the third round at Royal Troon to move into contention, and there was a time when his name on the leaderboard made it look like the marquee for a horror movie. All the other golfers would be afraid, very afraid, and do something desperate, dangerous or downright stupid. But no longer.
They know that Woods has made only one birdie on the back nine here all week. They know he can't hit fairways at the same clip he used to, can't conjure up magical shots every time he has to, and that he's struggled for two-plus years to put two together two rounds good enough to make any or all or them pull off the road and into a ditch.
They know, too, that every one of Woods' eight major titles came after he entered the final round holding at least a share of the lead. And he begins this one trailing Hamilton by four, with five golfers sandwiched between them.
''Tiger can always make a charge,'' Mark Calcavecchia said. ''I wouldn't put anything past him. But obviously, his confidence level is not what it was back in 2000 and 2001, when he held all the majors at the same time.''
Since then, Woods got engaged to a Swedish nanny and divorced his longtime swing coach. He denies either has anything to do with the sorry state of his game. He keeps saying how close he is to those bulletproof days, but so far, we have only his word for it.
''I knew I needed to shoot a good round to give myself a chance going into Sunday. I was able to do that today. So now,'' Woods said, ''I've got a fighting chance.''
Whether he's got enough game to accomplish what Leonard did at Troon in 1997 remains to be seen. The Texan spotted Jesper Parnevik five shots on that Sunday, then fired a scintillating 65 that more than made up the difference.
Since Woods knows his golf history, he also knows that champions have come from further back than that. Scotsman Paul Lawrie began the final day 10 shots behind at Carnoustie in 1999, and won in a playoff after shooting 67. But his win was possible only because of leader Jean Van de Velde's spectacular meltdown on the 18th hole. There's too many great names above Woods' on the leaderboard for that to be a realistic option this time around.
Woods will almost certainly have to go lower than the 68 he shot Saturday to win. The last time he did on the last day at a major was the 2002 PGA Championship, when Woods birdied the final four holes for a 67, but still lost to Rich Beem. Since then, his final-round scores have been 75, 72, 71, 73, 71, 76.
That won't get it done here.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at email@example.com
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