U.S. Open proves Tiger’s game has long way to go

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — It was better. Then again, could it have gotten any worse?

Barely had the curtain fallen on Thursday’s horror show (a topped 3-wood from the middle of the fairway that you’d be more likely to see in your D Flight qualifier?) when Tiger Woods was asked to step on stage Friday morning for a second-round performance in the 115th U.S. Open.

If his first-round 80 had been scripted by Stephen King, Woods arrived Friday hoping to play out something penned by Shane Black. You know, a little action-adventure superhero script. Maybe not "Iron Man," per se, but something to at least pull him out of the cellar, feed him some optimism and confirm that for whatever reason he is doing what he’s doing with his swing, it’s headed in the right direction.

Now going from 80 to 76 not only reduces the chances of attracting the highway patrolman’s attention, it’s good for the golf game, too.

At least, sort of, maybe. Only when that 6-over 76 concludes bogey, bogey, bogey – as Woods’ round did – it hardly gets you thinking you’ve unlocked the mystery.

"I wanted to shoot five or six today, but I wanted to be on the other side of it," Woods said, meaning 5 or 6 under, not over. "But I hit it a little bit better today."

Shocking, this fall from the top having reached so low that Woods talked positively of a round in which he was nearly four strokes higher than the field average (72.214) when his day ended. But while Woods at least got points for stopping to talk with the media for a second straight day, the negative stuff was piled up for head-shaking reading:

Add it all up and you get a heavy dose of different shades of sympathy.

"I feel bad for him," Geoff Ogilvy said, "(because) he’s trying harder than he ever has, it feels like."

Ernie Els, for so long a guy who butted heads with Woods and often came out on the short end, finds it to be surreal. "I have a bit of understanding. It’s humbling," Els said, though he seemed to stop short of calling it sympathy. Instead, the big South African said he’s been there, done that, and now Woods is seeing what it’s like.

For his part, Woods insisted he’ll do just that. Discouraged as he was for a second day, beaten up yet again by Chambers Bay, having hit just 16 of 28 runway-wide fairways and 21 of 36 monstrous greens, Woods said he isn’t making changes or hitting the panic button.

"Just continue practicing, continue working on it," he said. "Hopefully it will be a little bit better."

Ah, earth to Tiger: It has to get a lot better. Thing is, players feel the potential is there.

"It’s all still there," Ogilvy said. "It’s one thing if a guy just doesn’t have it any more, but he has it."

Committed to his every-other-week schedule, Woods said he will bypass next week’s Travelers, then play the Greenbrier. After another week off, Woods will take on his fourth Open Championship challenge as a pro at St. Andrews. That he won the first two, 2000 and 2005, provides plenty of good vibes, but whether that translates into confidence remains to be seen.

It had better, because Els said the game won’t wait.

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"The game will always go on. Great players come and go. Tiger’s going through a rough time, just like every other player," Els said, "and he’s got to work through it. There’s no secret to it. He’s up against it, and he’s got to find a way out, like every one of us."

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