NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. -- With apologies to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tiger Woods is creating his own version of the Scarlet Letter these days.
|Tiger Woods says he's happy with his progress, but the reasons weren't really in evidence this week. (AP)|
Woods trotted it out a couple of weeks ago at the U.S. Open, when he made headlines describing the bumpy, inconsistent Pebble Beach greens as "awful" after his opening round. Now, apparently, he can't seem to get that A-word out of his head (even as the rest of the world can't seem get to get Hester Prynne's A-word, as in adultery, out of their own thoughts in the wake of Woods' well-documented marital infidelities).
Thursday here at Aronimink: "I just putted awful, really," he said after a first-round 73.
Friday, asked about playing the course's two par-5 holes in 1 over: "I played them awful, absolutely awful."
A few questions later, talking about the current state of his game after a second-round 70, he added, "it's not quite where it needs to be, not quite sharp yet. I hit it awesome, putt awful. I putt great, hit it awful. It's always something, isn't it?"
Saturday, when he opened bogey-bogey and recovered later with another even- par 70: "I got off to just awful start today ... probably the worst start you could possibly get off to."
And what about that poorly struck approach shot at the sixth hole, forcing another three-putt bogey?
"That was awful, wasn't it. That was just awful."
Not quite so awful was Woods final round Sunday in the tournament that is his signature event on the PGA Tour. Instead, it was mostly mediocre. By the time the CBS cameras came on at 2 p.m., he was putting the finishing touches on his 1-over 71 in a week when he was at 4-over 284 and never did break par at this Donald Ross gem in the Philadelphia suburbs. For the first time since the 1999 Bay Hill Invitational, Woods was unable to break par in a single round of a 72-hole event.
De-frocked tournament as tournament host at AT&T's insistence, Woods still had to be thrilled that more than 40,000 spectators a day made their way to the golf course, as well as by the warm reception he received from mostly adoring galleries. But he also left town surely wondering if he can turn things around in time to contend for a 15th major title at the British Open in two weeks at St. Andrews, despite his confident comments minutes after he finished.
"I'm excited about the way I drove the ball this week, really excited. I felt like I drove it on a string all week," he said, not mentioning he hit only 32 of 56 fairways off the tee and needed 31 putts both Saturday and Sunday when he needed to make something happen, and couldn't.
Still, he insisted, "I can't wait to get over there. ... It does feel good to hit the ball as well as I did this week. I just need to get my putter organized a little better."
The British Open will be his seventh start of the 2010 season since he began playing for real at the Masters following a four-month self-imposed exile from the game. This is obviously not the Tiger Woods of so many sizzling seasons past, when he won at least once in his first six starts every year since 1999.
Woods keeps insisting he sees positive signs in the way he has been playing, compared to the state of his game when he first came back to finish tied for fourth at Augusta in April. He also has hellacious history at St. Andrews, where he won in 2000 by eight shots with a major championship record 19-under par score and in 2005 by five shots, becoming at age 29 the youngest player ever to win each of the four majors twice.
"The more tournaments I play this year, I'm getting better," Woods said Saturday. "The feel is getting better. I feel more comfortable with what I'm working on, and I'm just going out there and playing in a competitive environment because it's so much more comfortable than it was at the beginning of the year."
Still, he has a long way to go. His numbers this year compared to 2009 speak volumes. For example, going into this week's event, Woods was ranked 109th on tour in reaching greens in regulation. Last year, he was 16th for the season. In driving accuracy, perhaps his biggest problem this year, he was 147th through five events. Last year, he was 86th.
His driving distance averaged 298.4 yards a year ago, 21st on tour. This year he's dipped to 285 yards off the tee, ranked 78th, though that number should improve considerably after this week, when he averaged 304 yards using a new Nike ball that has a slightly harder cover and spins less than the version he had been playing. Still, the new ball in his bag didn't help him score. A year ago he averaged 68.5 strokes per round; this year it's 70.1, and this week it was 71.
Over his past nine rounds, in fact, Woods has only one score in the 60s, that spectacular 66 in the third round at Pebble Beach to get him into the mix, only to be followed by a Sunday 75 when an even-par round in the Open would have forced a Monday playoff.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on Woods' woes, with most naysayers obviously pointing to the state of his head following all those scandalous revelations, the breakup of his marriage, and a major hit his fortune will take when his divorce to soon-to-be ex-wife Elin Nordegren is complete.
On The Golf Channel Friday, former tour player Brandel Chamblee went so far as to describe Woods as being "emotionally and psychologically bankrupt."
That seems a bit harsh from a studio pretty boy who ought to leave the psychoanalysis to shrinks with medical degrees. But Woods is obviously playing as if he's got more than the birdies and the bogeys on his mind these days.
"It must feel like everything is crashing in on top of him right now," Jason Day, who idolized Woods as a youngster and took up the game because of him, said earlier in the week. "To play golf on top of that and to have the expectations of the whole of America, the whole of the world on top of his shoulders, it's tough to play. I get stressed out if I'm five minutes late for my tee time."
Still, neither Day nor many of Woods' playing peers believes that Woods won't eventually find his way back to the highest level of the game.
"He's gone through some hard times," Day said, "and I'm sure he's going to work it out. He's going to go back to the same old Tiger Woods as you've seen in the past. He'll get back to where he was, I guarantee it. Once he gets through all this stuff ... once he starts winning again, it's going to be very easy to get that back."
Bottom line: Wouldn't golf be perfectly awful if he can't?
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.