Back To School


Tiger Woods finished T-30 at the Open and carded three consecutive rounds under par. senior writers Randall Mell, Jason Sobel and Rex Hoggard grade Woods' performance in his first ever Fall Series event.


Give him a D.

It’s hard to imagine Woods giving himself anything more when he said he went to the Open looking to win, when he spoke so excitedly about the upturn in his game with the practice-round 62 at the Medalist and with his growing comfort with his new swing.

If I were grading Woods on a curve against the field, he would get a C. He tied for 30th, middle of the pack, in a Fall Series event that featured just three of the top 50 players in the world rankings. He finished 10 shots back and never got himself into contention to win an event that came down to a playoff between two players who had never won a PGA Tour event before.

But Woods is graded on a steeper curve. That’s why the story I read in my local newspaper about Sunday’s finish featured Woods in the headline and led with Woods and didn’t even mention the tournament winner (Bryce Molder) until the latter half of the story.

My grade is harsh because I’m grading Woods against the standard he set himself, against Jack Nicklaus and the record 18 professional major championships that make Nicklaus the greatest player who ever lived. Woods is chasing history. That’s what every tournament is still about, we think. It’s why he is still the most compelling figure entering any tournament today. It’s the grander game within today’s game and why we focus so much attention upon him.

Woods won’t challenge Nicklaus’ record by putting as erratically as he did at CordeValle Golf Club. His once magic wand could erase so many mistakes. The guy didn’t lead the PGA Tour in scoring all those years because he made more birdies than anyone else. He led the Tour in scoring because he could make so many great saves for pars. That’s more the pressing challenge now than a wayward driver. Woods won’t win another major making as many mistakes as he’s making.

Yes, Woods made progress at CordeValle with three consecutive 68s to close. That’s what he needs to focus on, to build upon, improvements that will bring back the confidence he needs to catch Nicklaus. He won’t get there with his D game.


There were six players who tied for 30th place at the Open this past weekend. If you asked me to produce a letter grade for five of them – John Merrick, Nate Smith, Vaughn Taylor, Nathan Green and Roland Thatcher – I’d probably give each about a B- or so.

After all, those players all took four turns around the difficult CordeValle course in a collective 7-under, earning $30,375 for the effort. It was hardly the stuff of greatness, but they did beat 97 other competitors in the 132-man field.

As for the other guy in the T-30 sextet, a B- feels like empathetic grading. For so long, Tiger Woods not only dominated this game at the highest level, but was always results-oriented. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff, the Tiger of old would usually sneak his way into a backdoor top-10 finish.

That isn’t the case anymore. Whether it says more about Woods or the competition, his B game – or even B- game – is no longer enough to persevere over 95 percent of the field.

When we assess his results now, we tend to hold him to the same standards that we had for the first 14 years of his professional career. But perhaps the current problem is more with us than him. Rather than compare Woods to his competitors, we compare him to the player who used to triumph more than one-quarter of the time.

Maybe it’s time to lower that bar. Maybe it’s time to treat him the same way every other 30th-place finisher is treated. In my book, that’s a B- – even if it still doesn’t feel quite right for Woods.


If one resists the urge to grade on a scale, ignoring the realities of a new swing and an old injury, Tiger Woods’ week at the Open was, at best, a C effort.

Sure, just making it 72 holes was a victory of sorts for a player that had withdrawn (Players Championship) and missed the cut (PGA Championship) in half of his last four starts. And those 19 birdies were a reason for U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples to celebrate his early selection.

Woods, however, doesn’t show up with pitch counts, doesn’t fist pump symbolic victories and doesn’t view a tie for 30th as an acceptable result at a Fall Series event or a major championship.

In this the former alpha male is every bit the victim of his own success. Jack Nicklaus, the benchmark for all things Tiger, won 73 of his 594 Tour starts (.122 average) and missed 81 cuts (.136). Woods has a .259 winning clip in his career and has missed just 15 cuts in 274 starts (.054).

Given the extenuating circumstances, Woods’ T-30 looks better on paper. But when that page is bound into a record book alongside 14 Grand Slam titles, his performance at CordeValle, despite all of his signs of progress, was pedestrian.