Tiger Woods began his first round of the 93rd PGA Championship with a birdie on the tenth hole, then added it another on the twelfth, and yet another on the fourteenth. He coasted to the fifteenth tee on a wave of mounting hysteria. The smile was back, the energy was back and, most importantly, the game was back.
Years of scandal, grubby expose and injury had faded into the background in a little over an hour. It wasn’t nostalgia that was holding our attention, the lure of seeing an old soldier out on parade one final time, it was belief. If anyone could do it, we told ourselves– even if it was with a sense of dread– it was Tiger.
And then something snapped. To hear Tiger explain it after his round, it was a simple matter of mental discipline:
“That’s exactly what happened. I thought I was playing well enough that I don’t have to do that. I can just go out there and play and let it go and just play by feel and see the shot, hit the shot, feel it and I’m not at that point yet. My motor pattern is getting there, and I start fighting it, and I couldn’t get it back. Obviously it’s tough.”
But it was more than that. It was eleven dropped shots in the space of thirteen holes; it was three double bogeys; it was the ignominy of carding a seven-over-par 77. Ultimately, it was a different man from the major-winner of old.
This Tiger, a walking, talking mass of insecurities and neuroses, reduced to chatter about swing thoughts and hitting the ball too straight, isn’t worthy of comparison with his former self. Not because the swing is different, or the putter isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but because his confidence is bruised in ways we can’t even begin to fathom.