Column: Same old Tiger, same old alibi at PGA Championship
SHEBOYGAN, Wis. (AP) There’s a saying in golf that ”If you’re going to miss it, miss it fast.”
By the time Tiger Woods’ 5-foot putt for par at No. 3 slid past the hole, he was already in hot pursuit. The ball was still wobbling the first time he thought about tapping in.
Another 10 minutes on, after hitting a metal wood off the tee at No. 4, Woods started down the fairway howling to no one in particular, ”How f—— bad am I putting?’
The answer, statistically speaking, is very bad. The fact that Woods let that miss linger well into the next hole – he was still cursing when he arrived at his tee shot – is even worse.
”I hit it great today, but I made actually nothing,” he said after shooting 3-over 75 in the first round of the PGA Championship. ”Probably one of the worst putting rounds I’ve had in a very long time.”
Golf used to be Woods and everybody else. About the only thing they had in common was how they described fair-to-middling rounds afterward, how a handful of near-misses on the greens could have changed everything. The difference, of course, was that Woods would go out the next day, and the day after that, and make almost everything in sight.
That doesn’t happen anymore. His opening rounds at the three other majors this year are 73 (Masters), 80 (U.S. Open) and 76 (British Open) and his finishes at Chambers Bay and St. Andrews were just as disastrous. Now he not only sounds like everybody else, Woods plays like everybody else, too.
To be clear, he did not ”hit it great” Thursday. The same golf swing that thrilled millions around the globe no longer scares anyone in the field. Woods found only seven of the 14 fairways at Whistling Straits and hit a more respectable 12 of 18 greens. That last number isn’t as good it sounds when you factor in the length of his average approach shots – 156 yards, which is short-iron territory.
He was spot-on about the terrible putting, though. Woods needed 33 strokes with the flat stick and his ranking in the ”Strokes Gained: Putting” category – the most accurate measure of a golfer’s play on the greens – ranked him 146th in a field of 156.
Even the most technically oriented teachers will admit that putting is, at its root, a mental exercise. Woods’ own coaches, plenty of self-appointed coaches watching on TV and more than a few pros have offered advice on how Woods could, or should, re-locate the stroke that made him nearly unbeatable once.
Nearly all of it has been focused on those few inches on either side of the golf ball. More likely, though, the problem with his putting still resides somewhere squarely between his ears.
”I just never felt like I had the speed right,” Woods said later in the same interview. ”Even I if I dumped the ball center of the green or I had some makeable putts straight up the gut, they still were off. They were either getting chewed up by the green or I was blowing them through. So I definitely need to somehow find the speed better.”
Grace was never Woods’ strongest suit. Ambition was, and the gulf between what he wants and what he has to settle for has likely never been wider. He still oozes talent. What he can’t produce anymore are results.
The closest he came to acknowledging as much came at the very end of his post-round interview. He was already nine shots north of early leader Dustin Johnson, who shot 66. Woods was asked whether his season was over.
”Season or year?” he said. ”Because the season is pretty much over very soon. But the year’s not.
”I still can do things overseas … our next season is starting up next year, I have my tournament down in the Bahamas. There’s plenty of golf to be played globally. So the season, it is what it is, but calendar year I still have a lot of golf left.”
Looking forward to those end-of-the-year events – which are largely an excuse to pick up rankings points and vacuum up serious appearance money – was the kind of admission that you would have needed the jaws of life to pry out of Woods’ mouth a half-dozen years ago.
Now, he views those tournaments as a kind of lifeline. That’s as good a measure of any as how far the king of the hill has fallen.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and follow him at http://www.twitter.com/JimLitke