UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. — Bogies and gallows humor are golf’s perfect blend of imperfection. After the mistakes and the frustration come the laughter. And the questions.
But Tiger Woods has heard every question imaginable.
What we haven’t heard is a proper answer.
The 2015 U.S. Open proceeds to a climax at Chambers Bay, a course created out of former gravel on Puget Sound a few miles south of Tacoma.
Woods also goes on, but not at this Open. Once more, he has missed the cut in a major. Once more. he has us wondering if the man who was no less than the second greatest player in history instead is just a footnote in history.
Insanity, Einstein told us, is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Tiger’s results have been agonizingly similar. He can’t get out of his own way. He’s had more rounds in the 80s this year, three, than in the 60s.
He says he’s sticking to a new swing he’s learning under the direction of “consultant” Chris Como until it becomes second nature. When does that happen? In six months? In six years?
Two weeks ago Woods shot 85, his worst score as a pro, in the third round of the Memorial, a tournament Woods had won five times. Thursday, he shot 80, his worst score in a U.S. Open, a tournament — the tournament, America’s national championship — he has won three times.
“On a golf course like this,” said Woods about Chambers Bay, his chamber of horrors, “you get exposed, and you have to be precise and dialed in. And obviously I didn’t have that. Obviously I need to get a little better for the British Open, and I’ll keep working at it.”
But is the work insanity? Is he going about it the wrong way? Has he had so many teachers — Butch Harmon, Hank Haney, Sean Foley, now Como — that the instructions are at conflict with each other?
“He and Seve Ballesteros could play by feel better than anyone,” said former Golf Digest columnist Ron Sirak. “He should listen to himself.”
Friday, he was more spectacle than spectacular. Parents were dragging children up and down Chambers Bay’s steep hillsides to show them the man who virtually could turn golfing flax into gold — all those 12-foot par-saving putts through the years — but now can’t get a ball out of bunker.
“I wanted to shoot five or six today,” he said about his second round. “But I wanted it to be on the other side.” He meant six-under par not the 76, six-over par, he recorded. Add that to Thursday’s 80 and Woods, for so long at the top of the leader board, was very near the
Tiger lived for the four major championships. As a kid in Orange County, he kept a chart on the wall noting the 18 majors taken by Jack Nicklaus. And when, on a bad leg, Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, to run his own total to 14, the assumption was he would overtake Jack. Now the assumption is he’ll never win another.
Woods is 39 but, after numerous injuries, an old 39. He had to alter the swing he learned from Haney because it put too much pressure on a left knee which has undergone surgery four times. He had to alter the swing taught him by Foley because it put too much stress on his back which twice required surgery. No wonder he’s confused. No wonder, as some say, he’s lost confidence.
In the winter, Tiger took time off after the back tightened up at the Farmers Open in San Diego. Now he’s making up time, ready to enter numerous tournaments the next few weeks, not the least of which is the British Open at St. Andrews.
“I’m excited about it,” he said in his final comment before departing Chambers Bay. Maybe he should be worried about it. Maybe, as Nicklaus said recently, Woods should step aside and consider where he was and where he is.
He may never again play as he did in 2005. He doesn’t have to play as he has been in 2015.