Lee Trevino loved to say that what mattered in golf was not how, but how many. By that measure, Woods definitely had too many by the end of Friday, but it was how he collected them that might have been more discouraging still.
But there, he salvaged a 1-over 71 that left him four shots behind the leaders after one round. This time, Woods already is staring at a 10-shot deficit, and the most hes ever made up after a disastrous first round is seven shots, at the 2005 Masters.
And thats hardly the only arrow pointing in the wrong direction.
Woods missed four putts inside 10 feet ' usually gimme range for him ' and three of them were over the closing four holes, when he went double bogey, bogey, par, bogey just as he seemed poised for a power finish. Either he made a few questionable decisions down the stretch, or he simply got lulled into a false sense of security. Either way, it was something you rarely associate with Woods, and it cost him four strokes.
Unfortunately, Woods said, didnt finish the round off the way I wanted to.
Exactly why that was is a matter of some conjecture. Woods wrote it off largely to the mud that stuck to his ball on two occasions because of the still soggy condition of the Bethpage Black course. But playing partner Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion who knows how mentally exhausting it can be to close out a tough round, had a different take.
He maybe thought the job was done, the Irishman said. And thatll come back to bite you.
Woods has had closing stretches this bad or worse three times before on the PGA Tour, but each of those involved a triple bogey or worse. What made this one even more unusual is that just before the tournament, Woods spoke thoughtfully about how Mike Davis, the U.S. Golf Association official in charge of setting up the course, was hoping to lure players out of their comfort zone.
Before it was so routine ' miss the fairway, wedge out. Now you have that option, Woods said. And I think guys are making more mistakes than before because now they have choices.
Its easy to imagine Woods being in a rush to make up ground at the start of the day. Hed only completed six holes before rain stopped play a day earlier, and when he returned Friday morning he faced a 10-footer for par. After missing that, though, Woods sprinkled two birdies among five pars, the second at No. 14 putting him at even par, tied for fourth, one shot off the lead. The table appeared to be set for one of his slam-bang finishes.
I was right there where I needed to be, Woods said, and two bad shots and a mud ball later, here we go and Im at 4 over par.
But rewind the tape of that sequence, back to Woods standing in the rough alongside the 15th fairway, and watch it for yourself. Its not quite as breezy as he makes it sound.
Got a great lie there, went for it. Plug it in the face, took a drop. Hit a decent pitch but I didnt think it was going to come all the way back to my feet like that. Blocked the first putt and hit a bad second putt.
(At) 16, caught a mud ball there and didnt make the putt. Didnt get up and down on 18, bad tee shot, led to another bogey.
Heres a less charitable description:
At 15, Woods got suckered into firing at the green when he should have known better. He took a drop when the ball plugged in the rough just above a greenside bunker, and hit a bad chip that appeared to stop some 20 feet from the flag but then rolled 50 feet all the way down the slope. He missed a 3-footer for bogey.
At 16, Woods arrived in the fairway to find a clump of mud on the left side of the ball and figured it would dive right. So he set up for a draw and instead hit a slice. After a pitch to 8 feet, he missed his par putt.
The par-3 17th was a routine two-putt par, but at 18, he drove into a fairway bunker, then into the greenside rough, and chipped to 8 feet. Instead of his normal, stalk-the-putt-from-every-angle routine, he walked up quickly and missed the putt for par.
Even though the weather was beginning to turn favorable, setting up an afternoon round where the scoring average would end up almost two strokes lower, Woods had no desire to keep playing. To his credit, he recognized he was more likely to throw his clubs than put them to good use.
The way I feel right now, no. I dont want to go back out there right now. Probably, he said, Id be a few clubs light.