Tour Players Don't Fear Tiger Woods Anymore, They Pity Him
SAN DIEGO -- No one can recall these kinds of odds for Tiger Woods at any tournament, certainly not one at Torrey Pines. He is listed at 50-to-1, which prompted a question that was even more shocking than the odds.
Was that to win? Or to make the cut?
Perhaps even more telling was an observation from Padraig Harrington.
''Did you ever think you would hear a professional golfer genuinely and sincerely say, `I hope Tiger Woods plays better,''' Harrington said over the weekend.
No one ever imagined him playing worse.
Woods didn't just miss the cut in the Phoenix Open last week. He missed it by 12 shots. More than posting an 82 - the highest score of his professional career - was how lost he looked on the golf course, especially around the greens.
Yes, this was a really bad day at the office. But this was Tiger Woods, the guy with a short game that had no rival.
The biggest break for Woods during his second round at the TPC Scottsdale was on the 17th hole, when Woods and Jordan Spieth drove it just short of the green. The hole was back and to the right, requiring a pitch that had to be struck close to perfect.
Woods had no chance. His golf ball was partially sunken in a divot, a shot so impossible that he stood over it for nearly a minute with his hands on his hips instead of around a club, probably because he had no idea what club could get him out of this trouble. He opted for a 4-iron, which didn't have enough pace and fell off the side of the green.
Why was that a break?
Because if he had a clean lie, Spieth would have exposed him even more. Spieth has one of the best short games on tour.
Woods does not.
And the rest of his game is not much better. The talk at Isleworth two months ago, when Woods returned from a four-month break to let his back heal fully from surgery and to regain strength, was that there was more freedom in his swing. In Phoenix, he was back to rehearsing his shot, over and over, before every swing.
Is this a low point? Woods can only hope so, but the rehearsals would indicate he has a lot of work and a long road ahead of him. But what Harrington said touches on a sad truth about a guy who dominated the sport unlike any other.
For so many years, Woods was associated with words like mystique, intimidation and ruthlessness.
Now he evokes sympathy.
No player wants to see Woods like this, and the odds would be greater than 50-to-1 they'll ever get the old Woods back.
''I want to see him back on top of his game again,'' Pat Perez said. ''He is golf. I don't care where he is. If he finishes last or first or whatever, he is the game of golf. And until he leaves, he will be that guy. Everybody is always going to question him and go after him. I don't watch the Golf Channel, but I'm sure they have all the answers for him. I hope he turns it around.''
Rory McIlroy got grief last year for saying that Woods was on the back nine of his career. Now you might as well try to guess which hole he is on.
That's the mood on the PGA Tour. It's sad to watch.
The two nastiest words in golf are ''choke'' and ''yips,'' and the latter is coming up quite frequently in any conversation about Woods. How else to explain a guy who hits one chip 3 feet and the next one 30 yards?
Justin Thomas, a 21-year-old rookie, grew up watching and idolizing Woods. Just like any other kid, he dreamed about winning a major, and it was usually going head-to-head with Woods on the back nine Sunday.
Thomas has played in three tournaments with Woods, and Woods has missed the cut in two of them. The other was at Torrey Pines, where Woods missed the 54-hole cut. When he shot his 82 last Friday, Thomas said it was ''disheartening to see.''
After the first round of the Phoenix Open, someone pointed out to Spieth than in the six times they had been paired together, Spieth already was 23 shots ahead. ''I don't think I've caught him on a good day,'' he said politely.
These kids don't know the Tiger Woods that Perez and Harrington grew up with. They might never.
''They didn't have to compete against him week in and week out, when you knew you couldn't beat him,'' Perez said. ''There was nothing you could do about it. But it's just ... it's just different now.''
Along with the analysis -- is it in his head or does he have the yips or is it both? -- are the predictions.
The end of Tiger Woods.
To see how lost he looked in Phoenix, and realizing that he is 39 with five surgeries behind him, make clear that it will take an extraordinary effort for Woods to get back to the top of his game.
Then again, he was nothing short of extraordinary leading up to this point.
It's easy to forget he won five times and was PGA Tour player of the year just two years ago. That's what Thomas is banking on.
''It (stinks),'' he said of how Woods is playing. ''But he'll get it back. He wasn't the best player by coincidence.''
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