The latest endorsement of Jordan Spieth’s major credentials arrived parallel to another lamentable exit by Tiger Woods. While the former will undeniably be a force in this sport for a long time to come, evidence pointing towards a Woods return is increasingly difficult to glean.
After 36 US Open holes Woods started his inevitable journey home. The primary damage was, of course, done on a first day where he recorded 80. However, it is telling that in a supposedly decent morning at Chambers Bay the 14-time major winner still could not break 70. For the first time in his professional career Woods has finished consecutive tournaments at double digits over par. He departed on 16 over par.
Woods returns to his Florida drawing board before his next scheduled appearance at the Greenbrier Classic from Thursday week. The Open Championship at St Andrews, once a source of hope, is now laced with danger.
The 39-year-old may be taking his fall from grace literally. Woods continues to labour under the false illusion that he can compete for major championships. At least, that is what his public utterances suggest. But in one of life’s laugh-or-cry moments, by the 10th hole on Friday at Chambers Bay, Woods’s 1st, he was flat on his backside after playing from wild rough on a steep hill. The desperate picture was a snapshot of Woods in the current professional context.
Woods’s first set of second-round holes were typically erratic: bogey-par-birdie-par-bogey. Things barely steadied thereafter.
Woods earlier insisted that he was “right there” at the Masters, a statement at odds with Augusta National reality. After three rounds he was 10 shots adrift of the eventual winner, Spieth. If the young Texan ever had cause to look over his shoulder, he needed binoculars to locate Woods.
Here Spieth is seeking to become only the sixth player to win the Masters and US Open back-to-back. He could become the first player since Gene Sarazen to claim multiple majors before turning 22. ’s performance from Spieth keeps the dream alive.
Perhaps Woods regards upbeat sentiment as necessary. Maybe he reckons that admitting he is only seeking to play four rounds in any given event with the aim of gradually building back towards competing would be a sign of weakness. Woods is a stubborn character. The problem is, he looks more and more ridiculous with every given assertion of imminent glory.
There is no foundation for optimism. Woods has no apparent confidence in his golf swing, hence the willingness to keep setting up to hit soft cut shots. When it goes wrong, the outcome is horrendous – such as the topped three wood straight into a bunker on the 18th at Chambers Bay on Thursday. Woods still jerks and lunges into downswings far more frequently than is healthy.
He claims he is in rude physical health, which nobody on the outside can confirm or deny. Interestingly Woods has now pointed towards the recovery from the back operation undergone in March of last year being tougher than anticipated. “Knee surgeries are pretty easy compared to a back surgery, the recovery time,” he said. “And for some reason it’s just a lot harder dealing with a nerve than a joint.”
Woods at least has sympathy from the gallery. The number of spectators shouting in support of him this week has been noticeable. Fellow players, meanwhile, staunchly refuse to write Woods off. Even Phil Mickelson, with whom Woods shared indifference for years, now speaks of the contribution made to the game by this one player. Mickelson has gone so far as to credit Woods, single-handedly, with the rise in prize revenues in premier tournaments.
Those detached from the top level, however, tend to be more critical. Greg Norman, for example, has claimed that Woods now looks “totally lost” on the golf course. Tom Weiskopf, the former Open champion, claimed Woods has gone “from the top of Mount Everest to the bottom of a coal mine”.
Norman added: “When you are a great player and you go through a bad spell, it is usually a minor adjustment you need to get your game back into place, but Tiger needs to make major adjustments.
“He will win again. He will win other tour events. But a major? I don’t see it. You need to be honest with yourself. And he has to find a way to put his mind and body together.”
The Australian spoke from his own experience of recovering from injury: “As someone who has had multiple surgeries myself I can tell you that your body reacts to each one, and that other parts of you are working overtime to compensate. So it seems that your body is always out of kilter. And Tiger’s body now is very different from the one he had in 2000 when he was dominating the game.
“Even if his body is sound, he has to go deep down within himself and find the belief that he can still do this. He has to strip his feelings raw and build it all back up again. I believe Tiger will come back to some degree – but to be the best player in the world again? No. He will win golf tournaments but he won’t win majors the way he is playing.”
For now Norman’s prediction actually looks optimistic. Spieth, meanwhile, is in the vanguard of a new era.
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