Tiger’s 82 in Phoenix
Tiger Woods won’t be playing on the weekend in Phoenix. After a 73 on Thursday, which was mostly ugly but had some positive moments, Friday was an unmitigated disaster, as the 14-time major winner shot his highest ever single round score as a pro, an ugly 82 that put him in dead last with Michael Hopper, a guy who doesn’t even have a player page on PGATour.com.
I’m not going to sit here and tell you that everything is going to be alright and that all he needs is time and reps and his feels to get back to where he was years ago. It was horrifying. The truth is that none of us know what’s going to happen next with Tiger, and if he was being honest, I’m sure he would tell you the exact same thing. He’s going to play next week at Torrey Pines, where he’s won eight times in the past, and based on the way he played this week, making the cut would likely be looked at as a good result. That we’ve gotten to that point, Torrey Pines or not, injured or healthy, new swing or old, feels wrong but after an 82, most players would be happy to make the cut the following week.
Of course, Tiger has never been considered like most players and nowhere was that more apparent than in the promos leading up to the event where despite the fact that players like Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler were in the field, Golf Channel made it seem like Tiger was playing all by himself. All of his shots, good and bad, were shown on Thursday and even though his round wasn’t televised on Friday, there were enough people that were tweeting about it from the course that I could picture myself, someone who hasn’t won once on the PGA Tour much less 79 times, hitting the exact same shots.
Herein lies another issue. Tiger might break Jack’s record for majors won or he might never win another tournament, and while the result likely lies somewhere in the middle, we’re going to be there watching him the whole, miserable way through whatever process it is that he’s enduring. The record number of fans who showed up over the first two days in Phoenix is even more proof of that. Tiger’s popularity long surpassed that of the actual sport he reigned over and now, even as he goes through this terrible stretch, the fans and media are all still there, wondering why he can’t just figure it all out. When Steve Stricker fell off of the map, he was able to get it back together without the eyeballs on him. Ditto for Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, but Tiger won’t have that luxury. Everything he does is a story. If it wasn’t for Robert Allenby, we’d probably still be talking about how Tiger may or may not have lost a tooth while at a ski event in Italy, like it actually matters one iota.
The reaction to his first two rounds of 2015 wasn’t surprising, but it was still interesting to watch. Rocco Mediate went on Feherty Live and took aim at convenient target Chris Como, suggesting that Lee Trevino could fix Tiger because he had been a successful player in the past, which completely ignores the teaching success of guys like Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter and Hank Haney. Arron Oberholser, jumping on board with the most popular narrative in the golf world, said that only Butch could fix Tiger and then it got weird:
Brandel Chamblee called the first two days “shocking and incomprehensible” before saying that he wants Tiger to figure it out himself, while Notah Begay admitted that there was some short game issues but preached patience in the overall. I’m sure you’re as surprised as I am at those two takes.
The point is that the expectation for Tiger to be the same player he was 15 years ago is still present and much like how he used to make us completely forget about other players in the game, we’ve completely forgotten that he’s turning 40 at the end of the year, not to mention that he’s played competitively twice in the last five and half months, probably hasn’t been healthy in over a year and he’s working on yet another complete reconstruction of his swing. We completely understand when Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning and Derek Jeter start to fade, but with Tiger, greatness is expected at every turn and while that was fine years ago, we could be reaching a point where that’s just not possible anymore, at least not on a consistent basis.
Fortunately, golf has plenty of players to lean on going forward, and you can make the argument that the professional game has never been in better hands. A healthy and competitive Tiger can add to that dynamic and once all of this clears, I can’t imagine him not getting better because we’ve never seen him play like this but the truth, as Chamblee accurately pointed out, is that he couldn’t even complete the most basic of requirements for success at the PGA Tour level over the past two days. That is scary not only for Tiger, but for the hordes of people who watch and cover this game closely, many of whom are here right now because of the guy who just shot 82. In the long run, I still think he’s going to be fine as compared to the best players in the world, but I’ve never been more concerned that he just might not be around to do battle with Rory, Rickie and Jordan.
The show continues next week though, where all eyes will be on Tiger again as they always have been but now they’re on him for entirely different reasons.