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Tiger wilts during weekend again
Maybe once a year Tiger Woods blows off his post-round media obligations.
I’m always surprised that the count isn’t higher but perhaps it’s a remnant of the unfailingly polite kid he used to be that Woods, in good times and in bad, can usually be counted on to do his duty and, even if he reveals little, speak to the media.
But on Sunday, after a flaccid five-over-par round of 76 at Bethpage Black, site of his 2002 US Open triumph, Tiger Woods — who finished 11 shots behind champion Nick Watney — had nothing to say.
“He’s done,” Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, told the assembled journalists.
Anyone who’d watched Woods turn in his highest score of the year knew Steiny wasn’t lying.
What more was there to say that his latest weekend capitulation — finished off with six bogeys and a double bogey on Sunday — didn’t already say?
It’s been 15 years since Woods — who hit just six greens in regulation and had no short game to speak of — started a final round in the top 10 and signed for a worse score.
The Barclays also represented the extension of a worrying trend for Woods.
It was the third straight time he’s entered the weekend of a tournament with a shot at winning only to crash and burn.
He finished with 70-73 in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St Annes, 74-72 in the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island and the man who shot 69 wincing from the pain of a bad back on Friday at Bethpage could only muster 72 (with a career-worst four three-putts) and 76 at the popular par-71 New York muni over the weekend.
He also faded badly, remember, after starting the third round in the final pairing at the US Open.
Earlier in the year, Woods had troubling Sundays in Abu Dhabi — shockingly losing to Robert Rock — and, more graphically, at Pebble Beach, when he shot 75 while playing alongside Phil Mickelson, who turned in an unforgettable 64 to win the AT&T National Pro-Am.
But those faux pas were quickly overlooked when Woods went on to three fine victories — his first since the scandal — at Bay Hill, the Memorial and at his own tournament, the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club.
Woods is the only player with three wins on the PGA tour, yet what’s clear is that despite the triumphs, not all is right with him.
It can’t be overlooked, for example, that for the first time in his professional career, Woods this year failed to shoot a single round in the 60s on the weekend at any of the majors, the tournaments that mean the most to him.
He also has just three back-to-back weekend rounds in the 60s.
In contrast, he had seven in ’09 and, in the banner year of 2000, there were 12 weekends when he shot in the 60s on both days.
His scoring average this year before the cut is 69.65 — about what it was in ’09, when he won six times — yet three years ago he averaged 68.4 on weekends.
This year his stroke average is 70.7, a number caressed by the three wins and a good weekend at the Bridgestone Invitational.
What does it mean?
Certainly, it has to be of concern for a champion whose legend was made at the pointy end of tournaments to suddenly go MIA on Saturdays and Sundays.
Woods has clearly thought about it because he provided rare insight into what goes on between his ears after the disastrous weekend at the PGA Championship, where he blamed “the wrong attitude” for a woeful Saturday round.
“I was just trying to be a little bit happy out there and enjoy it,” he said.
“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 was also an acknowledgement that golf’s greatest closer was willing to change — probably at the behest of his Zen coach, Sean Foley — the approach that won him 14 majors.
And so, maybe an inadvertent acknowledgement, too, that Woods has lost touch with the cold-blooded champion he used to be.
Nick Faldo made an insightful observation on Sunday as he watched Woods wilt in the Long Island heat.
“Five years ago, he was in everyone else’s head,” the CBS analyst said, “Now he’s in his own head.”
There were those who felt that once Woods overcame the psychological barrier of winning in the wake of the scandal, he’d simply remember how to do it and golf would once again become his personal fiefdom.
But was that realistic?
Woods has changed through all of this; who wouldn’t have?
He’s a different man now.
He’s no longer bulletproof, and he knows it; both as a man and as a golfer.