NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. – Changing out of his golf shoes after another frustrating round at Aronimink, Tiger Woods could not think of the last time he failed to finish a regular PGA Tour event without breaking par.
“Maybe a Tour Championship?” he asked.
Not quite. It was 11 years ago at the Bay Hill Invitational when Woods shot par or worse all four rounds, He matched that dubious distinction Sunday in the AT&T National by closing with a 1-over 71, to follow scores of 73-70-70.
What sent Woods to Ireland in such good spirits, however, was that he could not remember the last time he drove the ball this well.
He measured that not by any statistics, but by having so much confidence in where it was going that he found himself talking caddie Steve Williams into hitting driver. Usually it’s the other way around.
He was never a factor as the defending champion of the AT&T National, playing so early that the leaders were just teeing off about the time Woods finished both rounds on the weekend. Even so, Woods didn’t hesitate when asked if he made progress.
“I did,” he said. “I drove it pretty good this week. That was fun. It’s not too often that Stevie is talking me out of hitting driver. I was driving it so good, I just wanted to hit driver every hole. It hasn’t been like that in an extremely long time.”
Including the majors, it was the first time Woods failed to break par in any round since the 2007 Masters. At Augusta National that year, he went 73-74-72-72 and tied for second.
Aronimink certainly had the feel of a major this week with its ultra firm greens and fast fairways. Woods was up to the test from tee to green. It’s when he had the putter in his hand that it fell apart.
He took 120 putts for the week – that’s an average of 30 per round – and made only 13 birdies over four rounds. Woods was never under par for his final round. He got back to even on the par-5 16th only to hit it so long on the par-3 17th that from the back rough, he chose to play toward a swale instead of a risky pitch to a shallow section of the green, taking the water – and a big number – out of play.
He settled for a bogey, and finished with a routine par.
Next up is a pro-am charity event Monday and Tuesday in Ireland hosted by longtime friend J.P. McManus, then a return flight to Florida to get ready for the British Open at St. Andrews, where Woods has won the last two times.
“It does feel good to hit the ball as well as I did this week,” he said. “I just need to get my putter organized a little better and really work on my putter over there. We’re going to be tested. There are a lot of long putts.”
Woods won the last two British Opens at St. Andrews by a combined 13 shots, although he had momentum on his side in 2000 and 2005. This time, he goes to St. Andrews having not won since November.