SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Paul Goydos isn’t one who rushes to judgment, especially in the case of Tiger Woods.
Three months ago, after Woods withdrew from The Players Championship with a neck injury while languishing at the bottom of the leaderboard, Goydos said it was too early to say how much Woods was affected by the turmoil in his personal life. He suggested waiting until Woods played courses that he historically dominated – Pebble Beach, St. Andrews, Firestone.
“That didn’t work out too well, did it?” he said Monday at Whistling Straits.
Woods did tie for fourth at the U.S. Open, even if he stumbled badly in the final round. He was never in the hunt after the first day at St. Andrews, tying for 23rd in the British Open. And in the worst tournament of his career, Woods beat only one player in the 80-man field with an eye-popping score of 18-over 298 at Firestone.
Goydos still isn’t ready to rule him out.
Not for the PGA Championship, which starts Thursday on this links-styled course along Lake Michigan. Not even for the Ryder Cup, less than two months away, with Woods probably needing to finish in the top 10 to have any chance of qualifying.
“The game is hard,” Goydos said. “Obviously, he’s struggling. But sometimes we judge how far away someone is by the scores they shoot, and that’s not necessarily true. I’m a good example of that.”
Remember, it was only a month ago that Goydos shot 59.
“Let’s talk about how poorly he’s played,” he continued. “Since 2008, he’s the No. 1 player in our world ranking. Not by as much as he used to be, but he’s still No. 1 since the PGA two years ago. My point is, the demise of Tiger Woods might not be what it seems. Is he playing poorly? Yes. But he’s still No. 1.”
Woods finished so far behind at Firestone, and finished so early, that he arrived at Whistling Straits on Sunday afternoon, well ahead of most of the players. Only his caddie, Steve Williams, was seen walking the course.
They were out early on Monday, with Williams spending most of his time holding the end of a club against Woods’ head as a reminder to keep it still through the swing. Then came a long practice session on the range before leaving.
Before leaving Firestone on Sunday, Woods twice said toward the end of his interview, “I need to be ready by Thursday.”
Hunter Mahan, who won the Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday and finished 30 shots ahead of Woods, was among dozens of players who began arriving for the final major championship of the year.
Those who were at Firestone spent time on the practice range. Some played nine holes.
Most came to the same conclusion.
The last major of the year looks a lot like the last one.
The key word, of course, is “looks.” Whistling Straits, which Pete Dye built along the bluffs of Lake Michigan, offers some of the most inspired views in golf. It rolls along through manmade dunes, with native grass that is yellow and wispy.
“It’s like a British Open with good weather,” Carl Pettersson said. “Some of the bunkers can be quirky, but that’s part of links golf. There’s a lot of blind tee shots, like you get in links golf. I don’t think it would be much fun to play in 20 mph in.”
The comparisons end there.
The soil is nothing like links golf, and Stephen Ames was quick to note that his 4-iron was rolling only about five yards in the fairway.
As for the bunkers? The PGA of America only tells the players that there are about 1,200 of them, although not nearly that many are in play. There are so many bunkers that the gallery often stands in them behind the ropes. A notice in the locker room again reminded players that a hazard does not end in the rope. Even if the ball is in someone’s foot print or the tire track from a cart, it’s still a bunker.
Stuart Appleby found that out the hard way in 2004 by removing a loose piece of grass and grounding his club during a practice swing. That cost him four shots.
Among the changes is a pot bunker in front of the green on the 355-yard sixth hole, which Kevin Sutherland said could make any player feel claustrophobic. Ames said it reminded him of the Road Hole bunker on the 17th at St. Andrews, yet another British comparison.
“It’s going to be hard,” Goydos said. “It’s got a little Scottish feel to it. You’re aiming at the bunkers. And there’s blind shots, but the blind shot is overrated. That’s all you have at St. Andrews. If a course was built after 1960, blind shots are bad. Anything built before 1960, and it adds character. I don’t get it.”
Goydos was not around in 2004 when the PGA Championship last came to Whistling Straits, although he pays attention. The fact Vijay Singh, a power player, won in a playoff over Justin Leonard and Chris DiMarco told him that the course does not suit one particular style.
He’s not sure there is a favorite, especially in this climate of golf.
“With Tiger struggling, it’s wide open,” Goydos said.