SOUTHPORT, England -- Tiger Woods couldn't wait to get off the course after the third round of the British Open. With the championship on the line, he couldn't wait to get back on.
Woods, who went into the final round five strokes behind the leader, used an incredible string of shots on the back nine to grab a brief share of the lead.
He birdied three of the last four holes, including a 30-foot chip-in on No. 17 and a 30-foot putt on the last hole that brought the cheering gallery to its feet.
But the Open ended for Woods in the clubhouse at Royal Birkdale, where he sat in front of a television watching as good friend Mark O'Meara, then Brian Watts, birdied the 17th hole to pull a stroke ahead.
Caddie Fluff Cowan waited outside the clubhouse door with clubs at the ready in case both faltered on the 18th. But when O'Meara sank a 2-footer to finish regulation play at even par, Woods' 1 over posted 15 minutes earlier was no longer good enough.
"I knew that probably even par was going to be the number, and I just didn't do it," Woods said.
Not that Woods didn't make it interesting, with a Palmer-like charge capping a 4-under-66 that brought him into contention.
It happened in a flurry at the end, and it electrified the staid British fans who crowded around the closing fairways to watch Woods inject some added drama into an Open that ended up lacking none.
Cruising along at 1 under for the round and four shots off the lead, Woods hit a 3-wood out of the rough to the fringe of the par-5 15th hole for a two-putt birdie that seemed at the time to have little significance other than being a well-played hole.
After a routine par on 16, Woods found himself on the fringe of the par-5 17th hole in three. He took a pitching wedge out, chipped it on and watched as it ran down toward the cup and dropped into the hole for a birdie.
Woods pumped his fist and shouted "Yeessss" as the crowd erupted. But he was not done.
Now just a stroke down, Woods stood on the 18th tee and hit an iron to the fairway, followed by a 4-iron to 30 feet. He stroked the putt and it went from right to left into the hole for a birdie.
"I thought if I could shoot somehow about 30, 31, maybe a 32 if I'm lucky on the back nine, I might have a chance of winning," Woods said.
But it was a 33, and it proved one shot short.
"I came back and birdied three of the last four when I was kind of out of it to give myself a chance," he said.
Woods' performance showed he has learned from his mistakes last year at Royal Troon and picked up some of the patience needed on the tough links courses of the British Open. He finished at even par at Troon, 12 strokes behind winner Justin Leonard.
Woods, who had rounds of 73 and 77 at Birkdale between an opening round of 65 and his closing round of 66, was in contention in a major for the first time since winning the Masters in 1997.
He appeared to shoot himself out of it on Saturday, when he wore a shell-shocked look and was simply relieved to be off the course after struggling to a 7-over 77 in high winds.
Instead, he fought back on the final day in the rain to make a decent run at his second major title at the age of 22. And he wasn't going to second guess the poor shots he hit while things were going badly for two rounds.
"You could do that, and you could beat yourself up forever," he said. "You have to look at the positive -- the fact I started out good, finished good and I hit a lot of good shots this week."
Cowan, protecting the clubs outside the clubhouse, agreed.
"The kid's got no quit in him," the caddie said. "He's amazing."