It’s time for another Major golf championship. So that means it’s time to take the temperature again of Tiger Woods in the effort to find out how high on the leader board he might be when the field turns the corner to the back nine Sunday at The Open at Royal Portrush.
The quick answer is it seems doubtful. His Masters championship came in April and as exciting as that was for the game and his fans, it was not followed by the kind of performance in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship that would have us believe his comeback was complete.
Woods missed the cut at the PGA Championship and tied for 21st at the U.S. Open. That would have looked much worse had he not played 6 under over the last dozen holes.
We’re not the only ones who have expressed some doubt about Woods’ capacity to continuously fulfill everyone’s expectations. On Wednesday, he told the vast media contingent there to see him that he’s not very happy with his game.
“It’s not quite as sharp as I’d like to have it right now,” Woods said after his seven-hole practice session. “My touch around the greens is right where I need to have it.
“I still need to get the shape of the golf ball a little bit better than I am right now, especially with the weather coming in and the winds are going to be changing. I’m going to have to be able to cut the ball, draw the ball, hit at different heights and move it all around. Today it was a good range session. I need another one tomorrow. And hopefully that will be enough to be ready.”
Woods hasn’t played a lot of golf since Augusta National, only 10 rounds, which is hardly enough to stay sharp. And since he won, he hasn’t breathed down anyone’s back in the effort to win another. He’s been average, Tiger circa-the last decade.
It’s not like he has any institutional knowledge about Royal Portbush, either. The venue hasn’t hosted The Open since 1951 so when he walked the course in practice he did so intent on making as many mental notes as possible before he tees off on Thursday.
“I’ve seen enough of it to understand that I’m still going to have to do quite a bit of homework in my yardage book of trying to figure out how I’m going to play each hole with the different winds that are going to be predicted to blow, and where to miss the golf ball in the correct spots,” said Woods.
And let’s face it, he’s not totally healthy and likely will never be. When he finds success it will be in spite of his back and knees. He will push through, never glide.
Instead of playing competitively, he took off on a two-week trip to Thailand during which he did not pick up a stick. He was then home for about a week and a half before leaving for The Open. And he’s played about 45 holes in the preparation.
So really, how good can he be this weekend? He finished 11 strokes behind Gary Woodland at the U.S. Open and has not been closer than eight in any tournament other than The Masters.
“Well, getting myself into position to win the Masters … it took a lot out of me. That golf course puts so much stress on the system,” said Woods. “It was a very emotional week and one that I keep reliving. It’s hard to believe that I pulled it off and I ended up winning the tournament.”
Woods told the media he won’t play the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational next week in Memphis. If there’s one thing he learned from the 2018 season it was to better pace himself. He played in 18 tournaments last season and its unrealistic to expect him ever to play more than that.
“I want to play here as long as I possibly can. And you have to understand, if I play a lot, I won’t be out here that long,” said Woods. “So it’s understanding how much I can play, prepping how much I do at home and getting ready. And that’s the tricky part is trying to determine how much tournament play I need to get the feel for the shots and also understanding where my body is.”
Woods has relied a lot on his caddie, Joe LaCava to research the hills and valleys of Royal Portrush.
“Joey has done just an unbelievable job of getting numbers,” Woods said. “He’s gone out a number of different times because he knows the weather is going to change, the wind is going to change. Our carries are going to be different. Our ending numbers are going to be different. So [we’re] trying to figure all that out and then put together a game plan that’s going to work.”
According to USA Today, Woods tried asking Brooks Koepka if they could play a practice round together, not so much for the fraternity, but because he knows his caddie, Ricky Elliott, knows the course inside-out.
“‘Hey, dude, do you mind if I tag along and play a practice round?’ I’ve heard nothing,” Woods said he texted Koepka.
All he got in return was radio silence. The interview room erupted in laughter as did Woods. But you get the feeling he’s going to need all the help he can get this weekend.