Golf

Lusetich: Horrors! Tiger tanks at Torrey, misses first Saturday cut

Tiger Woods is off to his worst start ever this season in 18 years as a professional.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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SAN DIEGO

Someone call 911!

LEADERBOARD

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Tiger Woods needed to chip in and then hole a 10-footer — both for par on the final two holes — to break 80 at Torrey Pines.

Torrey Pines!

He’s won nine times on this course, including the 2008 U.S. Open, and is the defending champion at the Farmers Insurance Open.

In 14 career starts here, he’s never finished over par once, and now … six over par?

Tiger Woods, who grew up not far away in Orange County, just doesn’t shoot 79 on what is as close to a home track as he has on the PGA Tour.

But he did, and now — with a total that bested only one guy in the field, a local club pro named Michael Block — won’t play the final round on Sunday after missing a Saturday cut for the first time in his PGA Tour career.

Since turning professional in 1996, Woods has only failed to break 80 once, in brutal conditions at the 2002 Open Championship.

This 79 came in perfect weather.

Ambulance!

The breathless post-mortems already have Woods and his game on life support.

TEE IT UP

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“Tiger’s meant to be coming out and competing, not be completely out of sorts,” said Nick Faldo. “He looked very rusty.”

Another of Woods’ regular swing critics, Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, thought his backswing was too short — that of “a 55-year-old man.”

Peter Kostis, the CBS analyst, said Woods, who’s definitely bulked up, was swinging too much with his upper body and didn’t lead enough with his lower body.

Who’d have thought it: Tiger Woods swinging like an over-the-top Sunday morning hacker.

And they were among the tamer conclusions. Many denizens of social media had Woods written off, never to win again.

But one man who wasn’t panicking amid Saturday’s carnage was Sean Foley, Woods’ coach.

“It’s just three days in a long year,” he said. “I like what I’m seeing in practice, so we will just continue working and see where it leads us.”

The temptation is to think Woods was rusty coming into this event, not having played since early December at his World Challenge in Los Angeles.

But Foley said that wasn’t true. He and Woods had a number of sessions on the range after the New Year and “did good work.”

Not that it translated to the scorecard.

In truth, Woods’ three days here could be best characterized as a steady decline that turned into a precipitous fall — a trend, it must be said, that has dogged him for the past two years, when he’s too often been at his worst on weekends.

His best here came early on Thursday. An even-par round of 72 wasn’t great, but it was more about missed opportunities; he wasn’t scrambling for pars, just not making birdies.

But on Friday, on the less demanding North course, Woods shot a 71 that must’ve felt so much worse, especially given Jordan Spieth turned in a 63 playing alongside him.

Saturday morning was a continuation of that slide, only exacerbated because the South like this is as unforgiving a course as they play on the PGA Tour.

Woods opened with a tee shot on the 10th hole that found the right rough — a recurring theme — that he advanced maybe 90 yards, and then had to settle for bogey.

After a few up-and-down holes, a birdie on the par 4 17th — beautiful tee shot, gorgeous iron to six feet — and Woods suddenly was two under par on a day where the leaders were coming back to the field.

He piped his drive on 18 — one of the few straight ones with the big dog — but rinsed his second into the par five. Be sure, that was not a good shot, at least 10 yards short.

From there, his misery was compounded by sailing a wedge into the back bunker.

If that double-bogey didn’t sink him spiritually, the one on his next hole certainly did. He made that six from the fairway.

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After that, Woods found the most creative ways to make bogeys.

He three-putted one from 20 feet, missed a green from 100 yards and didn’t get up and down and was very much equal opportunity when it came to chips, blading two and chunking two.

For good measure, the bunker play was awful, too.

When he made birdie on the seventh, he sarcastically tipped his cap and took a bow.

“How ’bout that, eh?” he said to no one in particular.

He laughed, but this was the epitome of gallows humor. He’d played the previous seven holes in nine over par.

Woods only avoided an 80 by chipping in to save par — after chunking the first effort — on his penultimate hole and, after butchering what should’ve been his first birdie of the week on a par five, saving face by draining a 10-footer.

“Clutch,” one of my colleagues muttered.

Woods declined to speak to the media afterward. Safe to say he wasn’t happy, but it wasn’t lost on him that he’d bought an extra day at home before leaving for Dubai.

PARADE OF CHAMPIONS

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Of course, this wasn’t a good start to the season, but last year, he opened with a missed cut in the Middle East then flew here and won.

Maybe he’ll do it in reverse this year?

That’s at least as likely as the doom-and-gloom scenarios.

If there’s anything to be read into these three days in San Diego, it’s not that Woods is finished.

It’s that the Tiger Woods who dominated golf week in, week out, for months — and sometimes years — at a time, is no more.

But we already knew that, didn’t we?

Tagged: Tiger Woods

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