ATLANTA – Tiger Woods trudged off the green, a conspicuous look of frustration plastered across his face. He flung his putter toward his golf bag, then walked to the next tee box muttering angrily under his breath.
This was on the 11th hole at East Lake Golf Club, the aftermath of a missed 7-foot par attempt, but it served as a microcosm of his entire day, as he carried that look of abject irritation with him throughout the second round of the Tour Championship.
From his failure to get up and down out of a bunker on the first hole … to a missed 12-foot putt on the second … to an uncharacteristically sloppy double bogey on the eighth … to a failed 3-foot effort on 12 … to airmailing the green on 17 … to coming up well short with his tee shot on 18.
If Woods had his A game during a round of 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the overnight lead on Thursday, Friday's 73 – his worst round at East Lake in 14 years – was clearly his C- game – or maybe D+ if you grade on a curve, considering only two players in the 30-man field posted worse scores.
“I didn't play very good today,” he said of a round that included five bogeys and a double. “Didn't hit it very good and definitely didn't putt well. So it was a struggle all day.”
If there’s anything Woods confirmed after a seven-stroke swing, it was that he – like every other golfer in the world – is indeed mortal. While his ebbs and flows are on a higher level than just about anyone else, they still occur on a regular basis.
Sometimes you’ve got it, sometimes you don’t.
Even if you’re a 14-time major champion.
Afterward, he was asked about the phenomenon of a day-to-day contrast in his performance.
Q: Is there any way you can explain how you go from playing really well one day to not as well the next day?
That may be an oversimplified answer, but it’s also the only reasonable one. A concert pianist doesn’t suffer so much discrepancy on a daily basis. Nor does, say, a surgeon. (At least, we hope.) But for professional golfers – even the best of the best – it’s the nature of the beast. Bouncing back from the lows becomes as important as maintaining the highs.
Nobody understands that better than Woods.
On 32 previous occasions this PGA Tour season, he has posted a score in the 70s. Eleven of those times, he followed with a score in the 60s in his very next round.
Woods may need a 12th such instance to get back into serious contention in the third round, but in the Year of the Comeback, he is hardly out of the running already.
Entering the weekend six strokes behind leader Jim Furyk may sound like a daunting task, but already this season five different players – Kyle Stanley at the Waste Management Phoenix Open; Rickie Fowler at the Wells Fargo Championship; Webb Simpson at the U.S. Open; Ernie Els at the Open Championship; and Keegan Bradley at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational – have come back from 36-hole deficits of six strokes or more to prevail on Sunday afternoon.
Woods knows it’s possible, but also understands it won’t be easy.
“I'm still right there,” he said. “This is a golf course that is playing tough. But some of the pins are pretty accessible. But you've got to get the ball on the fairway. This Bermuda rough is thin enough where every ball is sitting at the bottom. It just won't sit up. It's just really hard to judge how far it's going to be, and sometimes it doesn't even fly straight. It's imperative to get the ball on the fairway, and from there, you can attack.”
On Friday, Tiger did less attacking than playing defense. While defense may win championships in other sports, it won’t do the trick in a tournament which has 15 players currently within that six-stroke differential from the lead.
When he finished his round, Woods still owned that palpable look of frustration across his face. The trick now is whether he can erase it on Saturday afternoon.