Woods’ problems seem to be more mental than physical

LOUISVILLE — It was a little question that got a big answer.

“My swing was dialed in on that range out there,” Tiger Woods said Thursday at the PGA Championship. “Unfortunately, I didn’t carry it to the golf course.”

Of all the things that ail Woods these days, from a bad back to the severe rust on his game, it is perhaps this strange case of stage fright that is most worrying.

Since 2009, Woods too frequently has lost his swing somewhere on the walk from the practice range to the first tee. Despite his insistence that “injuries” have been the cause of bad results over the past five years, it’s clear there is also a psychological injury at work.

Woods shot 74 Thursday in the first round of the PGA Championship, and though at a major that doesn’t sound bad, it was.

Valhalla was playing more like the Greater Louisville Open than a major; generous fairways, little in the way of rough and true rolling greens. Half the morning wave shot under par, which is 71, while Woods was beaten by Colin Montgomerie.

Yes, Monty!

The Senior PGA Champion beat Woods by four shots, and you could see his self-satisfied grin from Lexington. Even Tom Watson, who has a big decision to make about Woods and the Ryder Cup, beat him after also bettering his score at Royal Liverpool.

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Might be difficult to pick a player who can’t beat a man about to turn 65.

At one point, after three huge 50-yard misses to the left, Woods unleashed one at least 50 yards right, on the seventh hole, and turned to Phil Mickelson to ask whether that was out of bounds.

It should have been, but instead it landed in the Samsung Phone Zone and Woods got a free drop. As happened all day, he failed to take advantage, making par from the front of the green on the par-five. He missed a 6-footer for birdie.

Indeed, his only birdie came on a pitch from 35 yards after he’d came up woefully short of the 16th green, his seventh hole of the day.

“It wasn’t very good. A lot of bad shots and I never got a putt to the hole,” he said forlornly.

Mickelson and Padraig Harrington, who played with Woods, were as diplomatic as they could be in assessing the state of Tiger’s game.

“I thought he played with a lot of heart,” said Mickelson, who overcame early adversity to post a solid 69. “It’s not easy when your game isn’t where you want it and you’re hitting shots that you don’t be normally hit to fight hard.”

Harrington thought Woods was undercooked.

“The man looks like he needs to play some golf,” said the three-time major champion from Ireland who’s been dealing with his own struggles. “He looked kind of raw. Not enough rounds.”

Woods needs to play, but where?

Will he play next week with the bottom feeders at Greensboro to try to make the FedEX Cup playoffs?

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If he’s to do anything here, he needs to shoot well under par Friday. And even though his back, he said, felt fine, that’s easier said than done these days for Tiger Woods.

Meanwhile, his struggles have gotten to the point where he’s offered advice by peers on Twitter.

Paul Azinger said he’d fix Woods problems in no time while Parker McLachlin, one of Sean Foley’s first students, wrote this:

“Dear Tiger,

Please turn off your brain and leave Foley on the range. You’ll stop missing it both ways.

Sincerely,

A Player Who’s Been There.”