HOYLAKE, England — Forget about what we saw and said Thursday. He’s not ready. An inconsistent Tiger Woods clearly needs more competitive repetitions, particularly with a driver, before he’s ready to contend in a golf tournament. His stunning 5-over 77 Friday in the Open Championship second round rammed that perspective home.
This was a remarkable reversal. The 14-time major champion looked like a completely different golfer than the man who made five birdies in six holes during an opening 69. We’re seeing growing pains again, this time two events into a comeback from a March 31 microdiscectomy that fixed a pinched back nerve.
Woods was doomed Friday by wild shots the six times he used a driver and an inability to get approach shots close. Stray driver shots led to over-par scores on three par 4s measuring a shade over 450 yards: An opening double bogey after finding high grass way left; a bogey from right rough at the second, and a triple-bogey at 17, where he drove out of bounds far right.
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"I didn’t hit the driver very good today," he understated after making the 36-hole cut on the number.
Three things were consistent about his game, and two were of the poor variety: He found the rough every time he used the driver (four right, two left), he routinely was facing 30- to 40-foot birdie putts or chipping to save par, and he hit the fairway the three times he teed off with a 3-wood.
That sample — not to mention myriad other rounds in recent years — strongly suggests Woods is more dangerous when using a 3-wood, or long irons, off tees. He once dominated with a driver. Now it appears to be a liability. Now he seems to play away from it.
One instructor who observed Woods from the gallery the first two rounds emphatically said afterward that Woods has the driver yips.
"He’s got the yips just like Ian Baker-Finch did," the teacher said, referring the 1991 Open champion and current golf broadcaster. "And it’s going to get worse before it gets better."
For certain, Woods’ strategy Friday ran in stark contrast from past rounds at Royal Liverpool. He used a driver only once in winning the 2006 Open and hit the big stick once Thursday.
Under the guidance of coach Sean Foley on the driving range, Woods worked for a long while on driver shots after the first round. Though it hasn’t been his best club in recent years, Woods said he decided to use driver more often and be more aggressive in Friday’s wind direction in order to have sand wedges into greens and to take bunkers out of play.
"I couldn’t carry the bunkers [with 3-wood], that was the thing," he said. "Either you lay up short or go ahead and go over the top."
The three-time Open champion got a break in that his side of the draw (early Thursday, late Friday) played in lighter wind. But he was unable to take advantage.
He didn’t make a birdie until the 18th, where his made 9-footer ultimately qualified him for weekend play. Had that putt not gone in, Woods would have missed consecutive cuts on the PGA Tour for the first time since he was an 18-year-old amateur in 1994.
The only other time he faced a birdie putt inside of 20 feet Friday was a 10-footer he missed left at the 372-yard fourth. What’s more, he duffed two chip shots, hitting both fat.
He wore long faces on long holes. He also failed to birdie the par-5 fifth and 16th after sending balls into rough with his driver. And all he could do was save par from 6 feet on the par-5 10th after hitting a long iron from the fairway into high grass right of the green.
At 2 over, Woods stands 14 strokes behind Rory McIlroy, whose two major victories in 2011-12 were by margins of eight strokes apiece. If nothing else, Woods is an optimist when it comes to his game. He never has been one to express self-sabotaging thoughts, and that was the case again Friday night.
"Well, it gives me a chance," he said of making the cut on the number. "I’m pretty far back. Luckily I’ve got two rounds to go. And hopefully I can do something like Paul did in ’99. [Paul Lawrie won that Open at Carnoustie despite trailing by 10 shots entering the final round.] Hopefully I can play well on the weekend and at least give myself a shot at going to the back nine on Sunday."
That sounds like wishful thinking at this point. McIlroy is in full bloom, cruising so far with a pair of 66s for a four-stroke advantage. Plus, 55 players are ahead of Woods.
If he is going to gain ground, he’ll have to swing better and start better. He began poorly for the second day in a row. On Thursday he opened bogey-bogey despite hitting the first two fairways. This time he went 3 over. He went from left high grass to right high grass in double-bogeying the first. Then overshot the green from the right rough at 2, apparently catching a flyer lie.
"Just bad starts, period," he said.
The beginning, though, looked good compared with the triple at 17. He drove out of bounds way right and was halfway down the fairway before someone told him his ball was out of play. He walked back to the tee and, again using driver, hit a quick hook into left rough. He two-putted after flubbing a chip from behind the green on his fifth shot.
That scene on a warm, sunny day was surreal. As Woods finished chopping on 17, his girlfriend, downhill ski champion Lindsey Vonn, watched from inside the gallery rope beside the green. Before Woods putted out, an Open radio commentator said, "His head has become detached from his body."
Interestingly, as he struggled, Woods’ nemesis Sergio Garcia shot 70 and moved into a tie for third place. Garcia said he was inspired after watching a movie Thursday night about fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, the late Hall of Famer.
Perhaps Woods should follow cinematic suit. Watching film of himself at his dominant best couldn’t hurt.