A Tiger time warp: Stuck in the 70s

Somewhere during the walk between the driving range and the first tee, it’s all going wrong for Tiger Woods.

At the Masters, he set the tone for the tournament with a snipe hook into the pines and never recovered. At Quail Hollow last week, he made bogey on the most benign of starting holes and missed the cut.

And the song remained the same Thursday at The Players Championship.

Woods opened at TPC Sawgrass — one of his least favorite courses — with a blocked fairway wood into the right rough, then found a bunker well short of the green with a flared approach shot and ultimately missed a six footer for par.

"It wasn’t certainly the most positive start," Woods said.

What exasperated Woods was that he "hit it really good" in his warm-up session.

That the distance between the range and the first tee has become a bridge too far presents the biggest clue that what ails Woods these days is more about what’s in his head.

Not that he’s ever been in the habit of conceding much along those lines.

"It’s golf," he said with a shrug.

His golf was just as nonchalant as his attitude.

Woods opened with an eminently forgettable 2-over par round of 74. A man who has only missed eight cuts in his professional career — and never missed consecutive cuts — is again battling just to play the weekend.

"Just one of those days today," he said.

Woods made three birdies but — again — couldn’t rescue his bad swings with a short game that was as sharp as a bowling ball.

He made five bogeys, two of them with a wedge in his hands from the middle of the fairway.

"Any kind of momentum that I would build, I would shoot myself in the foot on the very next hole," he lamented.

For the third straight tournament, Woods failed to capitalize on the par-5s, which once was the hallmark of his dominance. He made just one par-5 birdie Thursday and has managed to play his past 28 par-5s in only 4 under par.

It goes a long way to explaining the Woods slump, given that, in 10 of his first 13 seasons as a professional, he led the tour in par-5 scoring average.

"It’s just been one of those weird deals," he said. "Out here you have to take care of the par-5s and . . . I haven’t done a very good job of it. I really haven’t lately."

Woods said his problem Thursday was that he "just didn’t score."

"I didn’t get a lot out of that round. It should have been probably 1 or 2 under par," he said.

It certainly should’ve been better.

Woods was on the receiving end of a few bad breaks, including a fan clicking a camera during Tiger’s downswing on the third hole.

"Just put it on silent," Woods said of fans using their phones to take pictures, "It’s not that hard. It can cost guys tournaments."

That’s not what’s costing him this tournament, though.

Not when he’s tied for 105th in fairways hit (seven of 14), tied for 52nd in putting and tied for an awful 121st in greens hit in regulation, hitting only nine of 18.

"Just be patient with it," Woods responded when I asked how he’s dealing with the miscues. "Just keep plugging along. Obviously, in the last few months, I’ve put together some good rounds, won a couple of tournaments. So it’s there, I just need to continue doing it."

Meanwhile, Nick Faldo reiterated his view that Woods is struggling with his confidence.

"I hated it when analysts and commentators were saying, ‘He’s thinking this. He’s thinking that.’ But this analyst here, I’ve walked the walk, I’ve been there, and the bit I’m trying to describe is self-belief," Faldo said.

"I’ve had self-belief when I was playing my best, and I also lost self-belief, and that’s obviously when you get to the end of your career.

"I can generally recognize when a player is on the range, striping it, which Tiger’s been doing basically all season.

"But for a player, if you cannot walk from the practice ground to the first tee . . . for me he doesn’t have the self-belief he really needs."