CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Finally, all the talk about Tiger Woods was mostly about his golf.
And it was more bad news.
In a shocking meltdown Friday at the Quail Hollow Championship, Woods missed the cut for only the sixth time in his career with a performance that was incomparable for all the wrong reasons.
He shot a 79, his worst score on American soil as a pro and the second-highest of his career. He matched his highest score on nine holes with a 43 on the back nine, and that was with three solid pars on the tough closing stretch. His 36-hole score of 153 was the highest in his 14 years on the PGA Tour.
Rust? Mechanics? Distractions from a personal life in turmoil?
“It is what it is,” Woods said. “Whatever it was, it wasn’t good enough.”
Not even close.
He missed the cut by a whopping eight shots – and he was 17 shots behind 36-hole leader Billy Mayfair – and headed back to Florida as speculation mounts that being caught in rampant extramarital affairs has tarnished more than his image.
Making the performance even more surprising is that Woods was coming off a tie for fourth at the Masters three weeks ago, a remarkable result considering it was his first competition since a five-month hiatus created by his crisis at home.
Woods couldn’t make a putt, and he didn’t make any excuses about whether his private life is affecting his golf.
“Every day I do media, I get asked it, so it doesn’t go away,” he said. “Even when I’m at home paparazzi still follow us, helicopters still hover around. Does it test you? Yes, of course it does. Is that any excuse? No, because I’m out there and I have the same opportunity as everybody else here in this field to shoot a good number. And I didn’t do it.”
Mayfair birdied his last hole for a 4-under 68 that gave him the halfway lead at 8-under 136. He led by one shot over two-time major champion Angel Cabrera, who had a 67 while playing the last two days with Woods.
J.P. Hayes matched the course record at Quail Hollow with a 64 and was in the group at 138 with Masters champion Phil Mickelson (68), Pebble Beach winner Dustin Johnson (65) and Paul Goydos (70).
There were good scores Friday. Just not by the world’s No. 1 player.
Instead of making birdies, he was making consecutive double bogeys – a flop shot that ran through the green and into the water on the 14th, and a four-putt from 30 feet on the next hole, the last three putts from inside 4 feet.
Woods only hit two fairways, none after the fourth hole.
“He’s obviously got things in his mind other than what’s going between the ropes right now,” said British Open champion Stewart Cink, who played with Woods. “You’ve got to learn how to balance what’s going on in your life with your golf. And if you’re not in a great place mentally, then it sometimes shows up out there.”
This was Woods’ first time playing at a regular PGA Tour event with public ticket sales, and the crowd was gracious as ever with a few exceptions. Two fans, including a woman, held thumbs-down as Woods walked off the 15th green. Police also escorted away a fan who apparently heckled Woods as he left the 17th green. A friend of the fan, who declined to give his name, said the fan only said, “No red shirt for you on Sunday.”
Otherwise, it was clear over the last two days the fans were more interested in Woods as a golfer than anything to do with his personal life. He just didn’t give them much to cheer. And he won’t be around for the weekend.
“You have to let it go,” Woods said. “It’s like baseball – you go 0-for-4 two days in a row like I did, you’ve got a whole new tournament next week, which is great.”
Woods is to compete next week at The Players Championship. He won at Sawgrass in 2001, but he also has finished out of the top 20 more often there than at any other tournament.
It was the first time Woods missed a cut since the British Open last summer at Turnberry, and the first time at a regular PGA Tour event since the Disney Classic at the end of the 2005 season.
“Give this guy a chance, though. He’ll bounce back,” Mayfair said. “We all know that. Everyone on tour knows that. By him missing a few cuts here and there, it’s just going to make him come back even stronger. I don’t think anyone out here is worried about Tiger, and I’m sure Tiger is not worried about it right now, either.”
One shot over the projected cut going to the back nine, Woods bogeyed the next three holes before it really turned ugly. He hit driver on the 329-yard 14th hole well to the right on a hill, leaving him a downhill shot to a green sloping toward the water. His flop shot came out too hot, bounded across the green and went into the water for a double bogey.
He didn’t take much time over shots after that, appearing to give up on a most forgettable round.
“I didn’t have much,” Woods said. “At that point in time, it was pretty much out of reach, and I was just trying to stay out of Angel’s way. He’s the one who’s leading the golf tournament.”
Even so, Woods’ poor play was exacerbated by the four-putt on the 15th. He ran his 30-foot birdie attempt about 3 1/2 feet by the hole, caught the lip with his par putt, then rapped a 30-inch putt that spun around the cup.
“I’ve seen him struggle like that off the tee,” said Cink, who also missed the cut. “But he’s usually the magician that gets the ball up and down from everywhere, hits some miraculous shots out of the trees and stuff. But you’ve got to remember, he hasn’t played a lot of golf since about November. It’s hard to just come back and be the magician instantly.”
Of the six times Woods has missed the cut, the 17-shot gap between him and the leader was the largest by three shots.
Woods holds the PGA Tour record for 142 consecutive tournaments making the cut, which ended at the 2005 Byron Nelson Classic. He also missed the cut at the 1997 Canadian Open and the 2006 U.S. Open.
But he never looked as bad as he did Friday at Quail Hollow.
It started on his back nine when a 3-wood narrowly missed clearing the bunker in front of the green. Woods flubbed the bunker shot, chipped too strong and missed the par putt.
“Ten was a pretty big deflator right there, because I hit a 3-wood and missed clearing the bunker by about a foot and ended up making bogey on a hole that I should have made a birdie,” he said. “So that hurt a lot.”
Even so, the real problem was his short game and mental mistakes. After opening with a 10-foot birdie to get inside the cut line, it wasn’t long before problems began to surface – not only the bogeys, but how he was making them.
Knowing how fast the putt is from above the hole at No. 3, Woods still ran it 8 feet by and three-putted for bogey, the first of consecutive three-putt bogeys. On the par-3 sixth, he had an awkward stance with his ball just outside the bunker. The worst thing he could do was chip too strong, yet that’s what he did, running it 10 feet by the hole and missing a downhill par putt that he barely touched.
On the next hole, he faced a simple chip that he only had to get to a ridge in the green, but chipped it off the other side and had to scramble for par on a hole where most players expect birdie.
Through it all, he made the turn at 2 over for the tournament, easily within range of making the cut.
It all changed so quickly, and before long, Woods was headed home to Florida.
“It does bother me, no doubt,” he said. “But at least I get the weekend to watch and see how it’s done, how real players play golf. And hopefully, I can piece it together for next week and be ready to go.”