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By Larry Fine
ARDMORE, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - Tiger Woods was a big favorite coming into the U.S. Open as he tried to end a five-year drought in the majors but walked away with a 13-over 293 total Sunday that he blamed on poor putting and iron play.
A triple-bogey eight on the par-five second hole got world number one Woods off on the wrong foot in a final round of four-over-par 74 at Merion Golf Club.
Over the first two rounds, Woods winced and shook his left arm after several shots and admitted to playing with discomfort from an elbow injury sustained last month during his victory in the Players Championship.
However, the winner of a tour-leading four events this season would not blame his performance on injury, instead pinpointing deficiencies in his game at Merion.
"I struggled with the speed all week," said Woods, who had putted brilliantly this season before slumping with the flat stick in his previous outing in the Memorial Tournament.
"These greens are grainy. It's one of the older bent grasses, creeping bent. So it's a little bit grainy. I struggled with the speed, especially right around the hole.
"Putts were breaking a lot more, I gave it a little more break and then it would hang. That's kind of the way it was this week."
Thirteen-over marked the worst score relative to par for Woods in 16 U.S. Opens as a professional.
Tied into his difficulties sinking putts was his inability to place his approach shots in the best position.
"It wasn't as sharp as I'd like," Woods said about his iron play. "I hit the correct distances most of the time, but they weren't in the correct areas that I'd like to have.
"I was trying to hit the ball in certain spots, give myself uphill looks on some other putts, but I didn't quite do that."
Combined with tricky pin placements set up to compensate for greens softened by heavy rain leading up to the tournament, that added up to trouble for Woods.
"The pins were really tough," said Woods, who has been stuck on 14 majors since his 2008 U.S. Open victory, stalling his chase after Jack Nicklaus's record of 18.
"They put it so close to the edge. A couple of times...a step over a hump. I didn't think they were going to be that difficult, but given the soft conditions, I think that's what they tried to do."
Still, Woods said Merion, despite concerns that it was too short at less than 7,000 yards, proved itself a worthy test to merit a return as a major venue after an absence of 32 years.
"It was a fantastic atmosphere," said the 37-year-old Woods. "It was a good week overall.
"I'm sorry that the golf wasn't what I would like to have it."
(Editing by Gene Cherry)