So as I was heading out to catch up with his group shortly before our show, Kelly Tilghman, Nick Faldo, and Gary McCord were keeping me posted on the holes played in the mean time. By the time I reached his group on the second tee, Tiger had hit every fairway and every green (he started on No. 10). Then, right on cue, he airmails the second green leading to his first bogey of the day. Walking up the third fairway to another striped tee shot, he seemed as intense as he always does on the course, but he also looked comfortable. That didn't last long.
After laying it up in the rough on the par 5, he hit a sub-standard pitch shot and almost got to the ball before it stopped on the green, and all of a sudden it seemed like his patience was quickly diminishing. A ho-hum par at No. 4 and then the surprise of the day at No. 5. It's a 291-yard par 4 that most of the players take a shot at from the tee. Tiger grabbed an iron – much to the shock of all of us and to the surprise of the spectators. His fellow competitors – Cameron Beckman and Troy Matteson – had already given it a whirl. Tiger even got a smattering of boos from the sometimes-tough Ney York-area gallery (remember Sergio Garcia at the first U.S. Open at Bethpage?).
At the time I thought it was a remarkable illustration of a new-found patience. A nice wedge from there that spun back to the front fringe and we thought he had an excellent chance for birdie.
The birdie putt missed about a foot and a half to the right and Tiger stepped up to the tap-in, didn't mark it but took enough time, and missed the hole. On the very next hole, he fanned an 8-iron from the fairway followed by another sub-standard chip. Then, while waiting for his turn to putt, Tiger squatted dow, looked at his line and then held his head in his hands as if to say, 'What have I done?' It's a familiar look to those who watch a lot of Golf Channel. You see it every year during our Q School coverage.
Tiger didn't speed up noticeably as he gave his all to the rest of his shots, but it was obvious that the burden he carries in his life while trying to resurrect his game, is taking a toll. It was punctuated by his body language on the last hole when he missed another shortish putt for par – something he's never done as long as I've watched him play. Tiger always makes a putt on the final hole no matter how improbable it may be.
If he continues to hit the ball the way he did the last two days, then he's definitely still in the game – especially if he can get a few putts to fall. But the one thought I was left with today was that it certainly doesn't look as easy for him as he spent the last decade demonstrating.