CHARLOTTE, N.C. — What to make of Tiger Woods right now?
His performance in the weeks leading into the Masters led many of us to believe he was on his way back to becoming one of the elite players in the game.
Yet his performance the past two weeks leads us to wonder if he’s becoming just another ordinary PGA Tour pro searching for his game from week to week, hoping to strike lightning every once in a while and put four really good rounds together in the same tournament.
Woods, since the moment his father, Earl, put a golf club in his hands as a toddler, has never been anything close to ordinary. He’s spent his entire life being extraordinary.
Have we now reached the point in Woods’ roller-coaster career when it’s fair to wonder if he’s become ordinary after all these years of battling injuries, self-inflicted off-the-course problems and suffocating expectations?
It’s difficult to properly pinpoint the state of Woods’ game after his uninspiring performance at the Wells Fargo Championship, which mercifully ended with the 3-over-par 74 he closed with Sunday at the Quail Hollow Country Club.
This was the second consecutive underwhelming performance for Woods, who finished tied for 32nd in the Masters a month ago.
For the fourth consecutive day, Woods putted poorly. He finished with 126 putts for the week and had 31 or more in every round. No one wins a golf tournament — or even contends — with those putting numbers.
His strokes-gained-putting figure of minus-5.769 when he finished his round was ranked 72nd out of the 75 remaining players, meaning he was giving up more than five strokes to the players in the field on the greens. That’s a staggering number.
Sunday was only the 11th round of Woods’ career (the sixth in a non-major championship) in which he played an entire round without a birdie. The final round of the 2014 WGC in Doral was the last time it happened.
“Again, [I] just did not putt well and didn’t make a birdie today,’’ Woods said. “I got shut out.’’
Were we duped by Woods’ impressive run-up to the Masters — the runner-up finish at the Valspar Championship followed by a tie for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational?
Based on the fact that Woods was the Las Vegas betting favorite to win the Masters, it seems many of us overrated the state of his game.
Taking the temperature of Woods’ game at every tournament he plays is a product of the magnitude of his accomplishments, the depth of his free fall and how many times he’s attempted to come back from the abyss.
This, of course, is unfair considering we don’t take the temperature of any other player’s game on a tournament-by-tournament basis. But it’s what Woods created with his greatness and dominance.
Woods now sounds like a player light years away from that dominance, like a player who doesn’t want to accept the truth about his own mortality. Months after his return from his latest back surgery, Woods still talks of his “new normal’’ with his fused spine and modified swing.
But to suggest at this point that rust is an issue for any of his spotty performances is folly — nothing but a cop-out excuse.
The Wells Fargo was the seventh tournament Woods has played in fewer than four months. He’s played 26 tournament rounds, been in contention and almost won a couple times. That’s ample enough playing time to discount rust being an issue.
Particularly this past week at the Wells Fargo, where the speed of the greens was slower than many players expected, Woods’ post-round comments became the repetitive sounds from a broken record.
Thursday, after shooting an even-par 71 with 31 putts, he said: “I hit the ball fine. If I just make a few putts … I should be 2- or 3-under par.’’
Friday, after shooting a 2-over 73 with 33 putts, he said: “I’ve hit it good enough to be right up next to that lead. If I just putt normal, I’m probably 5- or 6-under par.’’
Saturday, after shooting a 3-under-par 68, he said: “I’m hitting the ball well enough to contend, to win this golf tournament, but I just haven’t made putts. If I would have made a few more putts or just putting normal, I would have been up there next to the lead. I was so close to shooting about 7-under on that back nine. I’m close.’’
These are the familiar laments of all players. “What-ifs?’’ haunt every one of us who play the game.
In that way, Woods now sounds a lot more like the ordinary, common-man player than he ever has.
Where he goes from here, beginning with this week’s Players Championship, no one knows — especially Woods.
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