LYTHAM ST. ANNES, England – In three short weeks we’ll know if this season was a success or failure for Tiger Woods.
Seems like an overstatement, but it’s a fact.
If Woods doesn’t capture the PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, he will have gone four years without winning a major championship. The U.S. Open walk-off on one leg at Torrey Pines in 2008 was the last.
Woods, 36, is healthy for the first time in several years. That’s a positive. He’s won three times on the PGA Tour this year, more than anyone else. That’s a positive. But those are no consolation for major hiccups.
Since that historic Monday at Torrey Pines where Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in a playoff, he has played in 13 majors and collected seven top-six finishes. Top-six finishes don’t cut it when you’re Tiger Woods. He has 14 majors on his resume and 18 is the only number that interests him. He’s no closer now than he was at Torrey.
“It's part of golf, we all go through these phases,” Woods said. “Some people it lasts entire careers. Others are a little bit shorter. Even the greatest players to ever play have all gone through little stretches like this. When you’re playing careers last 40 and 50 years, you're going to have stretches like this.”
The most recent of those Grand Slam gaffes came here Sunday at the Open Championship, where Woods was grilled all week for being conservative then lost the tournament on a hole where he decided to be aggressive.
In the end it was one of Royal Lytham & St. Annes’ infamous 205 bunkers that cost him. Go figure.
Woods shot 67-67-70-73 for a 3-under 277 total, good enough for a third-place tie with Brandt Snedeker, four shots behind winner Ernie Els.
The “game plan” all week for Woods received much criticism. He was content to hit iron off the tee and aim for a particular portion of the greens, a strategy that Woods thought was working well despite benign conditions.
Woods hit driver off the tee only four times in the first 54 holes and was five behind Adam Scott heading into the final round. Many believed if he had hit driver more that it would result in more birdies. But he stuck with his plan and refused to budge, despite being in chase mode during the last 18 holes.
After five straight pars to open the final round – hitting no drivers – Woods’ Waterloo came on the par-4 sixth hole when he said he was “one yard” short of his mark on his approach.
The ball ended close to the face of the bunker in a fried egg lie and many wondered why he didn’t opt to take an unplayable lie. In that situation, he would have had to add a stroke penalty and still hit from the bunker, but it would’ve been a much better chance to get up and down for bogey.
Instead Woods hit the shot, it hit the reveted face of the bunker and nearly hit him before landing on the left side of the sand. On the next shot Woods was in an awkward position where he was on his left knee but his right leg was fully extended out of the bunker. The ball barely got out of the sand and ended 40 feet. Woods three-putted for triple bogey, missing a 4-footer for double.
Afterward, Woods said that he would’ve aimed left out of the bunker but he wanted to make sure he could advance the ball into the gallery to get a free drop. When he didn’t think he could pull off that shot, he decided to go straight at the pin.
“The game plan was to fire it into the bank, have it ricochet to the right and then have an angle to come back at it,” Woods described. “Unfortunately it ricocheted to the left and almost hit me. Then I tried to play an interesting shot after that and ended up three-putting.”
At that point Woods was six shots behind and scrapped his game plan and hit driver four times in the final 11 holes, which he played in even par with four birdies and four bogeys to shoot 73.
The most recent version of Woods is more inconsistent than any of the previous versions. The old Woods could win majors with his B game, probably his C game. This Woods will win with something resembling an A game – like at Bay Hill, the Memorial and AT&T National – but nothing else.
The A game hasn’t showed up once in a major this year. The T-40 at the Masters was a clunky performance. Woods was in contention after 36 holes last month at the U.S. Open but could not dial in distances with his short irons and faltered over the weekend. Here at Royal Lytham was similar to The Olympic Club. Woods was in contention, but he just is not crisp enough to put four complete rounds together under major championship conditions.
Woods doesn’t seem worried.
“I’ve got my pop back in my swing,” he said. “I’m hitting the ball distances I know I can. Unfortunately when I get out here with a little bit of adrenalin, it goes a little bit further.
“It’s not that far off.”
The PGA Championship isn’t far off either. When it’s over, we’ll know if this was another wasted season.