Whenever Tiger Woods reveals thoughts that go beyond a dry, by-the-numbers analysis of his round, pay attention.
However cryptically, he’s trying to tell us something.
And so it was Sunday, when an agitated Woods knew he’d blown his third straight chance at a major by crumbling again on the weekend, this time at the PGA Championship, where he finished in a tie for 11th, 11 shots behind Rory McIlroy and — curiously — blamed it all on the pursuit of happiness. Here are some snippets from his explanation:
“I came out with probably the wrong attitude yesterday,” Woods said of his disastrous Saturday round.
“I was just trying to be a little bit happy out there and enjoy it.
“But that’s not how I play.
“You know how I am.
“I play full systems go, all-out, intense, and that’s how I won 14 of these things.
“That cost me.
“It was a bad move on my part.”
It’s not like Woods to open his heart, so why did he choose to?
Maybe he was sending a message to his coach, Sean Foley, who has tried to teach Woods not only a new swing but a Zen perspective on how to play the game; one that might just bring him a little peace in the process.
Maybe it was a reminder that, in Tiger’s world, those close to him can never get too comfortable or feel too safe.
Woods certainly used the tactic frequently with his estranged coach, Hank Haney, who was often admonished without being mentioned by name when Woods would say things after rounds, such as, he had only “a Band-Aid swing” with which to compete.
Haney took it all to heart — too much so — but luckily for Foley, his disposition’s better suited for the task at hand: getting Woods to take his game from Fridays to Saturdays at majors, as he has on regular tour events. So Haney probably will choose to ignore the rant.
He knows he’s got bigger fish to fry, anyway.
As is his wont, Foley chooses to look at the Woods evolution as a glass half-full.
Woods has gone from totally lost — as a player he’d lost his game; as a man he’d lost his self-belief — in the wake of the scandal to, this year, the only three-time winner on the PGA Tour.
In a sense, the last domino to fall is conquering the majors.
This year he’s simultaneously gotten closer — he shared the midway lead at both the US Open and this PGA and was in the penultimate group Saturday at the British Open — yet also gotten farther away, being unable to shoot a single round under par on the weekend at any major.
His game suddenly deserts him on the weekends; fairways aren’t hit, wedges fly past greens, putts don’t fall. Woods took 48 putts through two days on Kiawah Island’s paspalum greens, then needed 60 on the weekend.
“The first couple days, every put just seemed easy,” Woods said, “The last couple of days, for some reason, it was, ‘OK, this ball is going two or three different directions.’ ”
They once always were easy for Woods. The first eight times in his career that he held the midway lead at a major, he went on to win.
Now he’s blown three in a row, stretching back to the 2009 PGA at Hazeltine, when he was upset by the unheralded YE Yang.
Complicating things for Woods, who will be 37 by next April’s Masters, is that as he tries to find the champion he used to be, the competition’s getting stiffer.
And, unlike Woods’ generation, which he put to the sword so often he broke their spirits, the Rory McIlroys of the world look at Woods in the way kids now look at Michael Jordan: a great legend but from another time.
It was telling that McIlroy, on his way to his record-breaking eight-shot win Sunday, admitted that he looked up at the leaderboard in search of the name he expected would be coming after him.
“Yeah, I did, I did,” he said. “On the back nine I looked at it a couple of times and saw that his name wasn’t there.
“I’m not sure what he shot, or how he did, but yeah, you know, I was surprised.”
Padraig Harrington, who has won three majors, believes Woods’ lifelong quest to beat Jack Nickaus’ record of 18 majors has gotten much harder.
“Rory’s proving that when he plays well, he plays like Tiger played well,” he said.
“Tiger turned up for a few years, if he brought his ‘A’ game, the rest of us struggled to compete. Rory is showing that with his ‘A’ game, everybody else is going to struggle to compete with him.
“And Tiger needs his ‘A’ game to come up against Rory.
“He’s not going to beat him unless he has a big weekend.”
A big weekend at a major, now that might make Woods happy.