His major season may be over after limping out of the Open, but we're so far removed from the Tiger Woods that missed eight straight majors. He's not done yet, writes Mark Townsend
They’re saying he hasn’t walked this slowly since Torrey Pines in 2008. Ever since he arrived at Portrush on Sunday Tiger Woods has looked in pain. There’s a general fog around him and he says he needs a break which is something given he’s now played just 12 competitive rounds since Augusta.
After an opening 78 he said his body wasn’t working as it should which meant he couldn’t shape the ball. His first wince came after his very first shot.
“I’m sore,” was all he would reveal. “I hit a lot of missed shots, they were all left.”
And after a few more questions he was on his way for some treatment.
An early Tiger roar. Birdie at 1 #TheOpen
— The Open (@TheOpen) July 19, 2019
Come Friday you might have expected a bit of a spring in his step walking up the second fairway after what had happened at the opening hole. Another tee shot left was followed by this – on Thursday he had made one for an unlikely par. This was even better.
But there was no jaunt, just a very pedestrian walk, hands in pockets and a general discord with both his golf and his body. There was a good chance of a second birdie, in the end he needed a five-footer for par.
More stretches, more breathing at the next, and another par. The ‘Monster Energy’ logo emblazoned on his bag couldn’t have been more ironic.
A chance at the 4th slid by, he nearly managed to drive the 5th but another par went on the card before making the hardest putt of the three from 20 feet at the par-3 6th. The arm went up, he trudged off to the side of the green and, before too long, his head was back in his notebook.
Another birdie for @TigerWoods.
He's 2-under through 6.pic.twitter.com/XGvDrEp0Fr
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) July 19, 2019
The next was a mess of a hole after the perfect drive, a fairway wood pulled left ahead of two weak chips, but at least it brought out some emotion. Now he had Tiger the competitor very gingerly taking over.
“I just torqued my set-up differently, just tried to make some minor changes swing-wise. Because let’s be honest, I don’t have the flexibility I used to have, and never will. So I’m going to have to make those adaptations,” Woods said.
“If you look at what Hogan did with his set-up, it looked not square at all but he was able to flush it. So I have to make certain adaptations on certain things, and with the cooler temperatures I was able to do that.”
Now he was playing Portrush from the fairways. After a good chance went begging at the 9th, again he made the harder putt at the next. At the 11th, giving up 50 yards to Matt Wallace off the tee, he cajoled one in to six feet for another birdie.
One observer who had watched all of his first round thought there was a strong chance he would have withdrawn at various points during the 78, now he was within a couple of shots of making the cut. And with the easiest hole, the par-5 12th, to come.
But the par 5s, like Thursday, weren’t kind to Woods and he would finish the week at 2-over for his six attempts.
“I was in perfect condition all three of them,” he said. “If I handled those par 5s well I would be right there.”
With the bad weather now coming in Woods might have hoped that 3-over would squeeze in which meant one more birdie from his last six holes. Half chances slipped by at 13 and 14, an amazing long, drilled iron to Calamity Corner deserved something better than another routine par and that was sadly that.
The last two holes dribbled away with a pair of dropped shots for a 1-under 70 and Woods’ major season was done.
He’s the first Masters champion to miss the cut in both the PGA Championship and the Open later that year, but it’s the first part of that sentence that rings the loudest.
Despite this year’s venues being courses where he’s dazzled before the conditions and his body have conspired against him. Then you remind yourself that he’s 43 and that he didn’t even start a major in 2016 and 2017.
“You can’t compare the two,” he explained. “Those were some of the lowest times of my life. This is not. This is just me not playing well and not scoring well, and adds up to high scores.
“It’s more frustrating than anything else because this is a major and I love playing in these events. I love the atmosphere. I love just the stress of playing in a major. And unfortunately, I’ve only had a chance to win one of them and was able to do it. But the other three I didn’t do very well.”
There was a whisper, there are a lot of whispers on a week like this, that he might need another operation on his back. For Woods though he’d just like a bit of rest and recuperation.
“I just want some time off just to get away from it. I had a long trip to Thailand and then trying to get ready for this event, it’s been a lot of travel, a lot of time in the air, a lot of moving around and different hotels. I just want to go home. I’m going to take a couple of weeks off and get ready for the Play-offs.”
As for the body it just seems to be something that he, and we, will have to get used to. After decades of utter brilliance being combined with spectacular consistency things have now changed.
“I’ve gotten so much stronger over the past year working with my physios and trying to get my body organised so that I can play at a high level. It panned out – I won a major championship.
“One of the hardest things to accept as an older athlete is that you’re not going to be as consistent as you were at 23. I’m going to have my hot weeks. I’m going to be there in contention with a chance to win, and I will win tournaments. But there are times when I’m just not going to be there.”