AKRON, Ohio – Earlier this year during his mass-media mea culpa from TPC Sawgrass Tiger Woods said he intended to clean up his on-course antics and colorful language. On Sunday at Firestone Country Club it was his body language that had a PG-13 look to it.
Less than three and a half hours after he teed off for his final round at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational the world No. 1 was wheeling off property, 18 over par for the tournament and adding up scores like an 18 handicap.
In the span of 15 minutes on Sunday Woods hit a spectator in the mouth (tee shot at the 15th), a tree (16th) and a water hazard (16th). That’s “two” off the sycamore, “three” in the drink, four out, double bogey-7.
Asked if he was having any fun on the golf course these days Woods was direct, “Absolutely not. Shooting 18 over is not fun. I don’t see how it can be fun shooting 18 over, especially since my handicap is supposed to be zero.”
But then he’s supposed to be the No. 1 player in the world, at least for another afternoon if Phil Mickelson can muster a top-4 finish to unseat him, and yet he remains winless through eight Tour starts, the second-longest drought to start a season of his career, his 18-over total was his highest score ever in relation to par and he’s bound for his worst finish as a pro.
On his way to a final-round 77, his highest score at a golf course where he’s won seven times and not finished worse than fourth place, Woods’ swing looked awkward, even painful at times.
Asked after his round if there were any injuries that the media is unaware of, Woods said no. But the question remains: is it a physical or psychological ailment that has Goliath playing like Gilligan?
What is certain is that Woods’ pedestrian play is certainly not for a lack of effort.
“People can say he’s throwing in the towel but that’s just not the case,” said Anthony Kim, who played the final round with Woods. “He’s giving it everything he’s got.”
The AK pairing seemed apropos given the two appeared destined to be a Ryder Cup power tandem a few years back. On Sunday they were competing for low-rehab division honors, with Kim participating in his first event since thumb surgery in the spring.
“We had a good time out there even though we both shot 100 over par, combined and individually,” said Kim, who signed for a 76.
Woods has been here before, in 1998 and ’99 when he overhauled his swing with Butch Harmon, and there were flashes of what we’ve come to expect on summer Sundays from the guy in red.
He played Nos. 11-13 in 2 under, including his longest putt of the week, a 12 ½ footer at the 11th for birdie, but played his next three in 5 over, including double bogeys at Nos. 14 and 16.
Nor did Woods completely loose his sense of humor, although his worst week as a professional tested the boundaries of his patience. When asked if he planned to play a practice round at Whistling Straits, site of next week’s PGA Championship, on Monday Woods almost smiled, “No, not tomorrow. I’m out there today. I could probably play 18 and still watch (the Bridgestone leaders) finish.”
But levity only goes so far. Woods is currently ninth on the Ryder Cup points list and plans to meet with U.S. captain Corey Pavin this week in Wisconsin. Given the state of his game Woods did not seem convinced he should be a captain’s pick if it came to that.
“I wouldn’t help the team if I’m playing like this,” Woods said. “No one would help the team if they’re shooting 18 over par.”
Kim, like Steve Stricker a day earlier, had a much different take on Woods’ Ryder Cup future.
“You can’t not pick the guy,” Kim said. “In match play events it’s about who wants to win more, who can grind through the bad shots and hostile crowds and I know he loves to win.”
Whether love can truly conquer all, however, remains to be seen.