CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Had the media known things were going to turn out this way, they may have made a bigger deal out of Tiger Woods’ decision to sidestep his traditional pre-tournament press conference.
But it’s too late for that now following Woods’ tie for 76th at even par, a stroke adrift on the wrong side of the cut.
On the rare occasions in the past when Woods’ name has been associated with the cut, it was in relation to the 10-shot rule at some events – as in, if I can just get within 10 shots of Woods (the lead), I’ll be fine.
But even that truth has succumbed to the new reality.
On Friday at Quail Hollow, Woods fought his swing and his putter, finished 11 strokes behind playing partner Webb Simpson and suffered the ultimate indignity of having his golf ball pilfered on his 14th hole.
It marked Woods’ second consecutive missed cut at the Wells Fargo Championship and the first time in his professional career he’s missed more than one cut in a PGA Tour event.
For the record, Woods said his Wells Fargo woes can be attributed to his play on Quail Hollow’s par 5s, which he rounded in 2 under. But that’s the “what,” not the “why.”
Much will be made of Woods’ free drop at the fifth hole, the aftermath of a circus-like atmosphere that featured a fan pocketing his golf ball.
“Think about me telling (Woods) he’s got to go back (to where he hit his second shot on the par 5) based on the evidence,” said Tour official Mark Russell, who made the ruling on the fifth hole. “Then I think it would be the other way around. You guys would be telling me, ‘Have you lost your mind?’”
Even those paired with Woods agreed. “It got picked up by a fan for sure,” Geoff Ogilvy said. “Don’t think there was any doubt.”
But Woods’ quick work week isn’t about a lost ball so much as it is lost confidence.
Amid cries of “he’s back” following his Bay Hill breakthrough earlier this year swing coach Sean Foley offered a cautionary comment, “We’re only 50 percent (to where he wants Woods’ swing to be).”
For two hot and humid days in North Carolina, Woods looked halfway home, hitting just 6 of 14 fairways, 14 of 18 greens in regulation and needing 33 putts.
“It all has to do with my setup,” Woods said. “If I get over the golf ball and I feel uncomfortable, I hit it great. It's just that I get out there and I want to get comfortable, and I follow my old stuff, and I hit it awful. All the shots I got uncomfortable on, I just said, ‘I'm going to get really uncomfortable and make it feel as bad as it possibly could,’ I striped it.’”
It’s a concept Foley alluded to earlier this week when he told your correspondent that, like his other students, it takes constant reinforcement to groove a new action.
“He can be like, ‘I feel good now (over the ball).’ And I can (pushing motion to the chest) and he’s like, ‘Whoa.’” Foley said. “That’s the thing that changes.”
At Augusta National – where Woods finished tied for 40th, his worst showing at the Masters as a professional – the problem was alignment and posture and it stands to reason that it was similar suspects at Quail Hollow. That he explained the phenomenon as needing to feel “uncomfortable,” however, is strange new territory, but not entirely unexpected.
Any change, particularly one as dramatic as what Woods embarked on with Foley, is difficult and that it would manifest itself under pressure is also predictable. Following his 1-over 73 on Day 2 Woods offered a familiar warning for the drumbeat of doubt that has followed Bay Hill.
“If you think about it, with Butch (Harmon) it took me two years, and with Hank (Haney), it took me almost two years before old patterns are out,” said Woods, who began working with Foley before the 2010 PGA Championship. “It takes time to get rid of old patterns. It takes hundreds of thousands, if not millions of golf balls, but eventually it comes around. I've had my share of successes, and I know it's coming.”
Whether Woods has embarked on the correct path is for history to decide because golf eschews instant analysis. But Woods did get one thing right on Friday; it is becoming uncomfortable, on and off the golf course.