Tiger's comeback takes unsightly turn

Published Apr. 6, 2012 1:00 a.m. ET

So much for momentum coming out of drought-ending, five-stroke victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. In the first half of this Masters, a sloppy Tiger Woods was roundly beaten, by six strokes, by a 48-year-old playing competitor who sports a pot belly and ponytail and drinks and smokes like the kind of lounge singer he resembles.

Hence we have the midway shock of this Masters. Looking so in control coming in after that commanding performance at Bay Hill, Woods has come unglued at Augusta National. A day after taking two penalty-stroke drops and missing six drives to the left in an opening 72, Woods lost a grip on both his ball-striking and putting, if not his emotions, in a second-round 75.

He has gone from tournament favorite to tournament carnival act. He was so out of sorts Friday you barely recognized him at times.

If the Day 1 was about escaping, the second round was about a loose swing, poor putting and continued lost opportunities on the par-5 holes he used to dominate.

The mess left him in a tie for 40th place entering the weekend, eight shots behind co-leaders Fred Couples and Jason Dufner and needing a guardian-angel miracle, if not exorcism, to secure a fifth green jacket.

Still, though he might have a white towel on his bag, he wasn't waving it in surrender.

"The tournament is not over," Woods said. "I can do this. I've just got to be patient. Obviously, I've got to cut that deficit down tomorrow and get off to a quick start on the front nine Sunday."


History, though, is not on his side. Woods has never won a Masters from worse than fourth place after 36 holes. And the Masters has never had a winner who was worse than 25th place at the midpoint.

So far, the numbers and pictures aren't pretty.

    The man who used to own the back nine has toured it in 37 and 38. He has but three birdies total on his last four back nines at Augusta National.

    Two weeks ago, everyone seemed to scream, "He's back!" Now he's back into the kind of funk that underscored those 30 months of no PGA Tour victories.

    "I think (short-game work) might have crept into my takeaway of my full swing, and unfortunately it's just not quite consistent," Woods said. "It's not what it was at Bay Hill and prior tournaments. I get into streaks where it's really good and then I lose it for a little bit. That's obviously very frustrating."

    A 75 by Woods is one thing. A 75 here is another. Not only did he come here with his game and confidence restored, he came with an Augusta track record that didn't hint at 75. Before Friday, he shot par or better in 18 of his last 19 rounds.

    To hear him, chalk up the problems to old motor patterns. After each round, he said motions from his old swing under former coach Hank Haney have crept into his current action under instructor Sean Foley.

    "I know what to do," Woods said. "It's just a matter of doing it. That's the frustrating part because I'm still creeping into my old tendencies."

    Thing is, the round started beautifully. He birdied the first from 15 feet and the third from five and, at 2-under, looked like he would contend.

    But then putting failed him. He missed a downhill three-footer for par at the fourth and five-footers at Nos. 8 and 9, for birdie and par, respectively. Then, after finally hitting an approach shot close, he missed a birdie putt from six feet at 14.

    When he finished, he was asked how he felt.

    "I feel hungry," he said.

    The reference could apply to more than food.