CARMEL, Ind. – Tiger Woods’ game is improving but he still continues to look human. Dustin Johnson hits it way farther, Rory McIlroy putts it way better and Woods’ best is no longer better than everyone else's.
In fact, how do we know when Woods plays his best?
We remember how Woods played in his heyday. Those days are gone. Sadly, they’re not coming back. In this current iteration of Woods are we entirely positive that we haven’t seen his best? We believe we haven’t, we hope we haven’t, but we’re not sure.
Woods didn’t play high-level golf to win any of his three PGA Tour events this year. He played better this week at the BMW Championship than he did at Bay Hill. He played better last week at the Deutsche Bank Championship than he did winning the Memorial against Rory Sabbatini and Spencer Levin. Woods’ game is good enough to win a regular Tour event. It’s not yet good enough to win a star-studded event.
There’s certainly no shame in finishing in a fourth-place tie behind McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Lee Westwood but it continues to be Woods' inability to find that extra gear when he needs it most that plagues him.
If you forgot what that extra gear looks like, watch McIlroy. He has it. It’s almost as if, during this blossoming friendship between Woods and McIlroy, Woods bequeathed his powers to the 23-year-old Wunderkind.
Woods shot a final-round 68 Sunday at Crooked Stick but made par on all four par 5s. He captured momentum with birdie on No. 8 but missed makable birdie putts on each of the next three holes. Birdies on 12, 14 and 16 were impressive, but Woods missed a 5-footer for birdie on the par-5 15th that would’ve moved him within two shots of the lead.
“I just need to have that one little stretch of holes,” Woods said. “That little stretch sometimes takes you out of a tournament, especially in a shootout like this. Going 3 over through eight (holes) yesterday, that’s not very good out here, especially when most of the guys were 3 under through eight out here.”
The stretch Woods speaks of came Saturday when he was a shot off the lead and made four bogeys in a six-hole stretch. He shot 71 on a day when 66s looked easy. McIlroy’s worst ball-striking day came in Round 2 and, although he made four bogeys, he made six birdies and an eagle to shoot 68.
“It’s getting better,” Woods said about his game.
The jury is still out on how much better it can be.