MOSEL, Wis. — Modestly tidy at the start, Tiger Woods’ first round of the 97th PGA Championship grew progressively choppy. By the time Woods was early on his second nine Thursday morning, there were signs of the same exasperation that has been prevalent in this summer of major heartache.
With a lengthy birdie putt left woefully short at the par-3 third, his 12th hole, and an errant drive at the par-4 fourth, Woods was starting to show the body language that was with him at Chambers Bay in June and at the Old Course in July.
The head went back. Exasperation. Then it hung. Frustration.
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If there was a sense of deja vu with the season’s final major championship, it wasn’t owed entirely to Dustin Johnson’s torrid start. (Give that man some credit, folks; he can’t get enough of these early leads in the majors.) There was also the pedestrian play of Woods, though he couldn’t fault a lack of fan support. It was passionate, consistent and full of encouragement to turn things around.
Alas, Woods remained in the sort of rut that defined his miserable efforts at the U.S. Open and British Open, shooting a 3-over 75 on Thursday.
For those keeping track at home, the genius formerly known as Tiger Woods has now played his past six rounds of major-championship competition to the staggering sum of 27 over. That dates to a fourth-round 73 at Augusta National that left him T-17 at the Masters, and includes missed-cuts on the strength of 80-76 at the U.S. Open and 76-75 at the British Open. Though he began in par-par-par-par at Whistling Straits, slowly the misplays and the leakage settled in (he hit just seven fairways, 12 greens and needed 33 putts). When he came home in 38 on the front nine Thursday, Woods had his sixth consecutive over-par round in the 2015 majors.
What characterized the opening round for Woods was his inability to seize upon good early drives. His proximity to the hole was so lame that it wasn’t measured in feet but rather in the time it took him to walk from his ball to the flagstick. He faced an eagle putt of 100-plus feet at the par-5 11th, a birdie putt from about 45 feet at the par-4 14th and then from the middle of the fairway at the par-4 15th, his approach shot ballooned and left him about 35 feet.
Nothing positive came from any of it, so it seemed curious that Woods had a different view of things.
“I hit it great today,” he said. “I kept with the game plan. I struck it the way I wanted to pretty much all day. I just never got a putt (to drop).”
With so many approaches coming up short on the greens or going wide of the target, Woods’ assessment could be debated. However, expect no argument from anyone as to how Woods graded his putting performance. “Probably one of the worst putting rounds I’ve had in a very long time,” he said.
Still, Woods was level par until he missed yet another green short and right, at the par-4 18th, and when he failed to get that up-and-down out of a bunker, he turned in 1 over. What happened on Whistling Straits’ front nine certainly looked eerily familiar to what unfolded at Chambers Bay and the Old Course: a mixture of poor driving, errant approaches and bad putting when facing a chance to save par.
The par-4 sixth, for instance.
Having birdied the par-5 fifth to scratch back to 2 over, Woods had a short iron into the sixth, but he was wide left, then he missed a 15-footer for par.
Given that he was tied for 99th when he finished, Woods is in serious danger of missing his third straight cut in the majors and his fourth in the last five (dating back to last year’s missed-cut at Valhalla). A missed cut also would assuredly mean his 2014-15 PGA Tour season is over, with Woods not likely to play at next week’s Wyndham Championship, nor is he eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs for a second straight year.
All together, a most miserable set of circumstances that leaves him in the worst stretch of golf in his career.
The only bright note? Woods might have only one day left in his season, and it would be safe to say that no one has looked forward to a PGA Tour offseason quite like Woods.