Tiger Woods spent four days in Ohio with his mind in Pennsylvania.
Woods kicked off his title defense at the Memorial tournament last Tuesday by playing a practice round at Philadelphia’s Merion, site of next week’s US Open.
It was obvious that he never really came back.
Consequently, the five-time champion made the wrong kind of history at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village, slumping to a tie for 65th and finishing an astonishing 20 shots behind winner Matt Kuchar.
It was Woods’ worst finish in a full-field event on the PGA Tour since his first full season as a professional back in 1997.
The chattering classes are — predictably — wringing their hands with the Open eleven days away.
Yet Woods seemed unruffled, perhaps because he doesn’t see any correlation.
“It’s just one of those weeks,” he shrugged on Sunday after turning in an 8-over 72-hole score. “It happens to us all.”
While it’s true that bad finishes happen to everyone else in golf, it’s rare that they happen to him; hence the concern with Woods heading into the year’s second major.
In his PGA Tour career — now in its 17th year — he has 22 finishes of 40th or worse, including nine missed cuts. By comparison, his biggest rival, Phil Mickelson, has 75 missed cuts.
Statistically, Woods is almost six times more likely (182) to finish in the top 10 than outside the top 40. And given his 78 titles, three-and-a-half times more likely to win.
It is, then, a big deal when he crashes and burns like he did here.
But Woods’ implosion at the Memorial, like the unpredictable Columbus weather, is more likely to be a passing storm.
“Did (his victory at) The Players transfer to here?” asked a Woods insider. In truth, little about Woods’ capitulation here makes much sense.
When he falls apart, it’s usually because his ball-striking lets him down, especially off the tee.
Yet at Memorial Woods hit 46 of 56 fairways — good for fifth in the field — and drove it not just straight but long.
It reflected the work Woods has put in to his driving game given the importance of tee shots at Merion, a tight course where the winner won’t have played from the long rough.
In Ohio, his short irons were inconsistent, his short game bad and his putting was abysmal.
That’s a cause for concern, but those facets of his game have been strong points all year.
And then there’s the fact that it wasn’t a slow bleed.
Woods made 15 birdies — and missed countless other chances — but uncharacteristically blew up, making three double bogeys and two triples, something he hasn’t done in a tournament in 16 years.
His tournament was undone by four holes, starting with the par-3 12th.
Woods didn’t hit that green once, including when the tee was moved so far forward that he only had to hit a pitching wedge (he instead took a nine iron and sailed it long).
Woods tripled the hole on Sunday after plugging in the back bunker, doubled it on Saturday and bogeyed in the first round.
Kevin Chappell, who finished second, didn’t have longer than 40 feet for eagle each day on the par-5 15th, yet Woods played the straightforward hole in 4-over par. Given that it’s a birdie hole, that’s an eight-shot swing.
On Sunday, Woods made his first birdie on 15, but even that was doing it the hard way, wedging to four feet.
Woods didn’t miss the 18th fairway once, yet only hit the green once and consequently played the hole in 4-over par.
The other hole that had his number was the third, a par-4 played with a long iron and a wedge. Woods didn’t miss the fairway once, but made bogey both times he missed the green.
It all reflects what Jim Furyk said about Woods’ third-round 79: “He didn’t hit that many bad shots, but got away with none . . . the score was a lot worse than the actual round was.”
And it all probably reflects the fact that once Woods fell behind, he wasn’t going to wear himself out knowing that he couldn’t win the tournament.
Marc Leishman played with Woods on Sunday and came away thinking that “he’s hitting it good.”
“He struck it well, he just struggled with the speed of the greens. He said that he’d been having that problem all week,” he said.
“I mean, if you’re asking me, I’d say there’s no reason he won’t play well at Merion.”
Woods has led the tour in putting this season, yet finished the week ahead of only seven players on the greens.
“I had bad speed all week,” he said. “I thought the greens didn’t look that fast, but they were putting fast. I could never get the speed of them.”
The chances are good he’ll have better command at Merion.
And be sure that he’ll have both his body and his mind in the same place.