Four months, zero wins and one 18-over doozey of a debacle later and it’s obvious -- painfully so for some unluckily positioned folks in the gallery -- that everything has changed for the man who used to be the world’s best golfer.
This isn’t the same person. This isn’t the same player, either. Dominant has given way to distracted and, ultimately, disastrous. Just take a peek at his scorecards from the recently completed Bridgestone Invitational, where for the first time since the 2003 PGA Championship Woods shot all four rounds over par.
“Frustrated, yes,” said Woods, who finished 78th in the 80-player field. It’s just so shocking, even now, to see his name on the opposite end of the leader board.
It sure looked like Woods on Sunday. The red shirt was there. Absent, though, was the usual scoreboard awash in red numbers.
“Life, in general, the past nine months has been very difficult,” Woods said during yesterday’s PGA Championship press conference.
Amazingly, Woods enters the final major tournament of the year, which begins tomorrow at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin, as the world’s No. 1 golfer. Pay no mind to the rankings, though. Woods is in a world of hurt. It isn’t just one segment of his game that’s gone haywire, either. It’s everything. The driving is bad. The irons are bad. The chipping is bad and the putting is even worse.
“Working on it,” a wan Woods said.
Woods offered a pretty good self-evaluation, saying he needs to hit the ball better, chip it better, putt it better and score better. Other than that, everything is hunky-dory. If you’re an optimist hell-bent on bright spots, Woods did say something about being content with his patience and perseverance.
If only there was a direct relationship between patience, perseverance and par.
The Woods of old made magic with his clubs. He could slice, hook or spin, command the ball to do whatever he wanted. Now he’s a reckless driver, a downright danger on the course.
His tee shots are finding not fairways, but foreheads. His wayward drives have clunked more than a few spectators, who get an autographed, tournament-used glove for their misfortune. Woods even joked about running short on gloves.
Ever since his personal life exploded in November the amateur psychologists of sport have figured that getting back to golf was the best thing for Woods. Comfortable on the course and all that blather.
Hey, it worked for Kobe Bryant, who said he found solace on the basketball court after he was arrested for sexual assault.
Turns out, Bryant was an all-star at compartmentalizing. Not so for Woods, who throughout the years has offered hints at his limitations. Only we didn’t see them as hints because Woods was too busy demolishing the competition.
Consider that Woods has never won a major tournament in which he trailed heading into the final round. Not that his past pulverizing of the competition should be overlooked, but coming from behind takes a little something extra.
What Woods is trying to do now is the mother of all comebacks. Maybe he just doesn’t have it in him.
But that’s hindsight. It’s more productive to look ahead, to Whistling Straits and beyond.
The most immediate question centers on whether Woods can somehow get right for the PGA Championship. Probably not. This isn’t about tinkering, but a turnaround. And turnarounds take time.
Just ask Woods, who said he endured something similar when he changed his swing in the late 1990s. “Took me two years to get it back,” said Woods, whose 14 majors -- yup, still 14 --- are four behind the career mark set by Jack Nicklaus.
It’s hard to believe, but there’s a growing sentiment that Woods doesn’t deserve a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. If Woods doesn’t qualify automatically he’d have to be chosen by captain Corey Pavin, who, it’s safe to assume, doesn’t need one person and his problems overshadowing the others.
By his own admission Woods said he wouldn’t help the team right now. Still, he’d accept being selected. “I’d like to be able to play myself on that team,” Woods said.
Woods split with his swing coach, Hank Haney. That didn’t help. He’s interviewing other coaches, including Sean Foley, who videotaped Woods’s swing on the practice range yesterday. Woods switched putters, only to switch back. That didn’t help, either. It’s obvious he isn’t comfortable or confident.
Depending on what transpires along the shores of Lake Michigan, maybe it’s time for Woods to consider another hiatus.
“Clear mind,” is how Steve Stricker, the No. 4 player in the world, put it. “In this game you need your total attention.”
Or, in the alternative, a plentiful supply of gloves.
(Scott Soshnick is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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