JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – Not sure what was the bigger surprise on Day 1 at Atlanta Athletic Club & Sauna, that Tiger Woods signed for his worst opening-round score in a major or that he stopped on his way to points beyond to talk with the media about his misadventures.
Normally, we’d hold Woods to a higher standard when it comes to the obligatory sound bite, but if ever he deserved a 'get out of jail free' card it was Thursday. In short, his 7-over 77 is among the worst 13-hole rounds in recent history.
Thirteen because through five holes Woods looked like, well the old guy, you remember the one who won major in bundles and U.S. Opens on one leg. Three under par through five holes, tied for the lead for about a minute, which was about how long it took for things to get sideways.
A double bogey at the par-3 15th hole, another at the par-4 18th was all it took. There were plenty of unsightly moments after that, but the script had been set.
Just before Woods stepped to the 17th tee, his eighth hole of the day, the PGA of America e-mailed a “GUR” (ground under repair) announcement for the 17th and 14th greens, which were damaged by mowers late Wednesday. At that moment it seemed like an apropos assessment of Woods – Game Under Repair.
Following the eventful round Woods was surprisingly forthright: “Got off to a great start, 3 under through five and was having mechanical thoughts and wanted to free it up. I thought I was playing well enough to let it go. I’m not at that point yet.”
There are always more questions than answers when it comes to Woods, but Thursday’s pile up created even more certainty and the kind of questions that, even if he were inclined, Woods would probably be powerless to answer.
Deep, maybe even painful, questions like: You said on Wednesday you showed up this week at the PGA Championship looking for a “W,” but given the state of your game was avoiding another “WD” a more realistic goal?
Woods has been clear on this, lowering expectations is not an option, yet the PGA will be his 21st consecutive official PGA Tour start without a victory, dating back to the 2009 BMW Championship, and his 10th winless major since his historic 2008 U.S. Open triumph.
Has Jack Nicklaus’ Grand Slam record of 18 major championships, the benchmark that has driven him since his junior days, become less milestone and more Moby Dick?
The media is fond of saying Woods is an old 35-years-old, noting that Nicklaus never dealt with the litany of injuries, both physical and mental, that Woods has. Woods has the same number of majors (14) as Nicklaus did at 35, which proves the last four are always the hardest. But regularly being reminded of that summit can’t be productive.
If it is “reps” that you feel you truly need, than why not consider playing next week’s Wyndham Championship?
Woods said he will not play the regular season’s final event next week because of family obligations. But he needs to finish in the top 30 or better this week to move into the top 125 on the FedEx Cup points list and qualify for The Barclays in two weeks. If he misses the cut at Atlanta Athletic Club his next competitive event may be November’s Australian Open the week before the Presidents Cup.
Given the current state of your game, should you play the Presidents Cup?
Last week U.S. captain Fred Couples made it clear one of his two wildcard picks is earmarked for Woods and his decision to play the Australian Open is an indication he has told Couples he would participate in the biennial matches. However, the matches – which, unlike the Ryder Cup, requires full team participation in each session – is no place to dust off the rust or hide a struggling star.
Have you tinkered too much with the formula that has worked so flawlessly for more than a decade?
Both Woods and swing coach Sean Foley seemed confident the new action is starting to take, and in Foley’s defense Woods has played just 11 official Tour events on the Canadian’s watch, but the swing is just part of an ever-changing picture.
In order, Woods has divorced his wife, his caddie, moved to south Florida and tinkered with his pre-tournament routine. He climbed to the top of his game because he was never satisfied with the status quo, but maybe a complete life overhaul could have waited.
Was Bryon Bell your best option for a caddie this week?
It’s likely Woods would have signed for a 77 on Thursday even with Steve Williams on the bag, and Bell is clearly someone he trusts. But the “friends and family” plan rarely works out in situations like this and given the gravity of this week’s event it may have been wiser to go with a proven commodity.
And finally, the $50 million question that every athlete in a similar situation has asked themselves, are you worried?
For two weeks Woods has raved about his healthy left leg, and that’s a start. But during the quiet moments when the cameras and fans are gone, the thought that his best days may be behind him must be inescapable.
In fairness to Woods, only time can answer that question. But after days like Thursday he can’t like the potential answer.