Era ended, era stalled: Walking with Tiger Woods, Rickie Fowler a study of frustration

A 30-something man greeted this most popular — and ultimately star-crossed — group of the 115th U.S. Open on its long walk between holes three and four.

That sun-baked guy put it best.

“Changing of the guard!” he yelled at Tiger Woods.

Thing is, the “new” guard in the group, the dude supposedly replacing the 39-year-old Woods as a perennial major winner — 26-year-old fashion plate Rickie Fowler — wasn’t nearly the man for the job. Not on these two days when Chambers Bay humbled the eighth-ranked golfer in the sport and the world’s now-so-long-ago No. 1.

Woods was 6 more over par with a 76 on Friday. That left him with a two-round total of plus-16. The winner of 14 majors left the course in a private, white Lexus coupe rather than the standard players’ van.

Tiger Woods, tied for 154th in a field of 156.

“At least he can fly home (to Florida) tonight in his own plane,” said one fan sitting in the grandstand off the ninth green.

Fowler, second in this championship and the British Open last year, was 4 over Friday. His two-day total: plus-14. So much for the striker some oddsmakers had as the fourth favorite coming in here, at odds of 18-1.

Contenders? Woods and Fowler were a ferry ticket from the cut line. The two are going home with two rounds to play.

“I made nothing today,” Woods said Friday.

Or was it Thursday?

He missed his fifth cut in 68 career majors. The most common call he heard, by far, was “Hang in there, Tiger!”

Hanging in was about all he did do.

Fowler is gone, too — despite the cries of “Riiiiiickeeeeee!!!” and “We love you, Rickie!” from young women for the dashing winner of last month’s The Players Championship. Those women were the only ones who didn’t seem to notice their man scattering drives left, right, short and deep.

They definitely didn’t see Fowler steal away at his turn between No. 18 and teeing off on No. 1. He peeled off ostensibly to use the restroom in the Chambers caddie shack while spotting girlfriend Alexis Randock in her black leather jacket and dark sunglasses. Fowler stole a quick kiss and hug.

But even that didn’t help. He had three of his six bogies and finished 3-over for his final nine holes.

The third member of this group was South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen. He had to shoot 66, one off the course record set Thursday by Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson, just to get to plus-3 for the tournament. Oosthuizen might have set the record if he hadn’t kept finding sand traps.

This is Woods’ 14th missed cut since turning pro in 1996 — and the fourth in his past 11 starts. On Friday, he kept putting himself in position for birdies and eagles with towering drives and mostly precise second shots. And then he kept pushing putts way past and wide of a cup that appeared for him to be a pinhead.

“I didn't make any putts the first two days; I hit it better today,” Woods said. “Hitting some spots where I could hit some putts; I made nothing.”

His second round began and ended the same way: fittingly. Starting on the back nine in the supposedly favorable morning, he sent his tee shot far wide of the 10th green into the brown weeds. Then, while approaching his ball, he slipped on the hay onto his rear end, barely catching himself with his hands.

That hole ended with a bogey.

His final hole was at No. 9, five frustrating hours later. His tee shot on the downhill par 3 landed on the wicked, topsy-turvy green about 75 feet in front of the hole. That became a three-putt adventure for a bogey; he had eight of those Friday. That matched his eight bogeys from Thursday. Woods made three birdies in two days, two on Friday: on No. 1, which the USGA set up Friday as a par 5, and on No. 12.

Woods constantly sighed, slumped his running back-like shoulders and blew air through his cheeks in exasperation with the Chambers Bay’s greens that ruined him.

He was wearing a white golf shirt with a red, horizontal stripe on the front and red, vertical stripe on the back — “Nice shirt,” were some calls to Woods on that long walk to the fourth tee. His game, along with Fowler’s, could have used the Red Cross.

They took turns matching two putts. On No. 18, to end his front nine, Woods had a 10-foot putt for par. He pushed it wide by two feet for a bogey.

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