FARMINGDALE, N.Y. - Tiger Woods managed to excite the crowd yesterday in his closing holes of the U.S. Open, but he would have needed more than the required 18 to contend for a record-tying fourth championship.

Woods got within 3 shots of first place following a birdie at the 14th hole of Bethpage Black but didn't have a comeback in him, finishing sixth. When it was over, he blamed a familiar offender - his putter.

"I striped it this week," he said. "I hit it just like I did [in his win] at the Memorial. Unfortunately, I didn't make anything. My good putts were not going in, and then my bad ones weren't even close.

"I gave myself so many chances," he added, "and made nothing."

All in all, it was an unusual week for the U.S. Open, with rain resulting in soft greens, but also creating longer conditions because of no roll in the fairways. Woods said while he was surprised the course played somewhat easy, he did not feel as if he made the proper adjustments.

"I shot over par [a first-round 74] coming in, and I had a lot of work to do," he said. "I gave myself a chance. As well as I hit it all day and to miss that many putts . . . I've missed them all week, so that's just the way it is."

Heading home. Sean O'Hair didn't waste much time leaving Bethpage State Park for his home in West Chester after closing with a disappointing 76 and a 285 total, good for a tie for 23d place.

But his next few days should be happier ones with his wife, Jackie, expecting the couple's third child at any minute.

"I'm looking forward to being home with Jackie and having the baby and spending some time with my kids," he said. "Obviously, that's the first priority. But I need to reflect this week and see where my game is and how I need to kind of get back on track."

O'Hair suffered two double bogeys in his final round on two relatively easy holes, the par-5 fourth and the 127-yard 14th.

"I just played awful from around the greens today, flat-out just didn't get it done," he said.

The reborn Duval. David Duval posted his best finish since 2001, the year he won the British Open, but said he was looking to have finished better than a second-place tie despite his low world ranking.

"I stand before you certainly happy with how I played," Duval, who entered the Open ranked 882d in the world, told reporters, "but extremely disappointed in the outcome. I had no question in my mind I was going to win the golf tournament today."

Duval jumped back into contention with birdies at Nos. 14, 15 and 16 but missed the green with his tee shot at the par-3 17th and made bogey to drop back. But he hopes he can use his performance as a springboard.

"It may be arrogance but it's where I feel like I belong," he said. "I was glad to come here and hit the golf ball and control myself like I've been saying I've been doing, and how I've been talking about how I know I'm playing a lot better than my results have been showing."

The statman. Bethpage Black played to a stroke average of 73.217 in the final round and 72.931 for all rounds, the latter figure nearly 2 strokes better than the 74.905 average in 2002.

Woods was the only player to finish under par in 2002, with a winning score of 3-under 277. Five players finished below par for 72 holes this season, with winner Lucas Glover carding a 4-under score.