Tiger Woods kicked off the Open Championship at St Andrews by chunking his second shot on the straightforward par-4 1st into the burn guarding the green. It was a gasp-worthy moment. However, it almost wasn’t surprising given what we’ve seen from Woods as of late, like when he opened with an 80 at the U.S. Open and then followed it with a 76 to miss the cut by a mile.
But it was supposed to be different at the Old Course, which he calls his favorite in the world. It’s a place where he has won two of his three Claret Jugs; where he shot 19-under to cruise to an eight-stroke victory in 2000 and 14-under to win by five in 2005. He was coming into the week with a bit of momentum after finishing T32 at the Greenbrier Classic (though I think that was overblown a bit despite ranking first in approach shot distance in the final round).
Tiger tried to convince himself that this week was going to lead him to turning a corner or get him closer to returning to form. His true believers were persuaded by his pre-tournament presser and quite a few people even placed bets on him (which I felt like was essentially giving away money), but his words felt forced and he almost seemed defeated before the week actually started.
Woods, who played in rather benign conditions Thursday morning, jumped on the struggle bus early and never hopped off, resulting in a four-over 76, his highest score in four starts at the Old Course.
Watching Woods play golf these days is like gawking at a train wreck. It’s so bad, but you just can’t avert your eyes. Don’t get me wrong, it’s quite sad to see him play this poorly and it’s not fun to watch. No one wants things to unfold as they have. Nearly everyone would love to see Woods get back to his old self, but the thing is, it’s a different era now. The sooner we can accept that, the easier it will be to move on.
“I’ve got to just fight, fight through it,” said Woods, referring to his opening bogey. “I mean, I still had 17 holes to go, and just try and grind it out.
“I know that today is a very benign day. Guys are going to go low. Guys have been shooting good numbers. Unfortunately I did not do that. Hopefully the conditions will be tough tomorrow and I can put together a good round and we’ll move up the board progressively.”
He didn’t seem to have much conviction behind those words. He looked defeated and could only shrug and laugh off his poor play.
His second hole wasn’t much better than his first. He hit an iron off the tee and then left himself with a 9-iron into the green, which came up at least 30 yards short — prompting jokes on Twitter that he was laying up on the par-4s — and resulted in his second straight bogey.
Without a massive turnaround, Woods is en route to missing his second straight cut at a major championship. Given the inclement weather rolling into St Andrews overnight, which is predicting gusts over 40mph Friday afternoon, it’s not looking promising for him as he’s currently in a tie for 142nd, trailing first-round leader Dustin Johnson by 11 strokes.
“Well, I’m so far back and the leaderboard is so bunched that in order for me to get in there by Sunday, I’m going to have to have the conditions tough and then obviously put together some really solid rounds, something like what J.D. (John Daly) did back in ’95,” said Tiger, who didn’t sound very convincing. “If you shoot some good, solid rounds in tough conditions like that, players can move up the board, and hopefully I’m one of them.”
Woods made the turn with a four-over 40, the easier of the two nines. He actually did grind it out on the back, which played mostly into the wind, to post an even-par 36 and threw in his lone birdie of the day on the par-5 14th.
“Discouraging, yeah — I was angered a little bit,” he said. “I hit it really good coming home, and I made some good clutch putts. I just needed to put those balls in position for birdies instead of for pars.”
Which will be a tough task if the forecast holds true.
As he walked off the podium, he threw his arms up and laughed, “That’s the way it goes.”