Woods struggles at his former playground


AUGUSTA, Ga. – Tiger Woods lost his game and could not find it at, of all places, Augusta National.

Imagine that.

The place Woods once dominated more than anyone not named Jack Nicklaus, no longer is his playground. No longer does he dominate these hallowed grounds. No longer does he feel comfortable here.

Woods shot 3-over-par 75 Friday and stands at 3 over, eight shots behind 52-year-old Fred Couples and Jason Dufner.

The game’s main attraction wouldn’t admit it, but he seemed lost. Lost with the flatstick in his hands, lost with irons in his hands and lost on the par 5s, which he’s overpowered since the mid-1990s.

“I have it in stretches,” Woods said, referring to his swing. “I get into streaks where it's really good and then I lose it for a little bit. That's obviously very frustrating.”

Woods, 36, has won four Masters but hasn’t won here since 2005. He’s never been worse than fourth place after the midway point in each of those four Masters wins. The past two years, Woods tied for fourth with a one-dimensional swing. He’s now tied for 40th place and was the high man in his grouping with Miguel Angel Jimenez (3 under) and Sang-Moon Bae (2 over).

There have been more clues lately that would suggest Woods was on the verge of playing well, not evidence to the contrary. The Arnold Palmer Invitational victory is the most obvious clue. The first-round 72 was another because it was vintage Tiger, the one who would grind out an even-par score with a D-plus game.

Woods shot a D-plus score with a D-plus game Friday. He missed putts shorter than 6 feet on six occasions and twice made bogey from the middle of the fairway when he blocked approach shots well right of the green.

The par-3 16th hole produced another wild unforced error. With the hole cut in the front portion of the green, most players were hoisting the ball 20 feet past and letting it trickle back toward the hole.

Woods had 9-iron in his hand and blew it 30 yards right, into a greenside bunker. He dropped the club, turned around, kicked it and dropped an infamous slur he’s been known to say on occasion. The ball ended up in a fried-egg lie. He blasted out and was not able to make par.

“It’s a simple 9-iron,” Woods said. “It’s not that hard. It’s a very easy golf shot. I laid the shaft down and stuck it to the right just like I did on 15.”

That’s the thing. There was no such thing as a routine shot for Woods in Round 2. It seemed like most times he was standing over the ball he had no idea where it was going. He doesn’t resemble the man who torched Bay Hill two weeks ago and walked away with a five-shot victory. There he played the par 5s in 12 under par. Here he’s played them in 1 under (one birdie, seven pars) through two rounds.

Look, the whole world knows Woods record here is still better than anyone of his generation – Phil Mickelson included – but this isn’t the same place for him. Smart money says Woods will find a way to creep into the top-10 by the end of the week, but a victory is now unlikely no matter how Woods tries to spin it.

“I’ve been around the block for a number of years, and I understand how to be patient, I understand how to grind it out and the tournament is not over,” Woods said. “Last year I think on the final round I made up seven shots.

“I can do this.”

If he does, he’ll have to pass world-class players named Westwood, Garcia, Watson, Kuchar and McIlroy, among others.

And if happens Woods will have to find his game at a place he once dominated, but no longer does.