This new Tiger Woods sees bogeys differently — here’s why that matters

August 8, 2019

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The most astonishing thing about the first round of FedEx I, Tiger-wise, was … his mood. As he made the long walk, from the 7th green to the 8th tee and under the hot late-morning sun, he was 3 over, his young playing partner, J.T. Poston, was 3 under, and Tiger Woods looked to be — what’s the right word here? — comfortable. Like he said after the Open Championship, he’s going to have good weeks and he’s going to have bad weeks and he seemed to understand that this was likely to be a bad week and that’s okay.

You remember what it was like, back in the day, don’t you? Woods could shoot a front-nine 38 on Thursday and be leading by Friday afternoon? Back in the day (1996-2008) has left the building. Tiger Woods shot a first-round 75 here on Thursday, driving the ball impressively but hitting some really mediocre iron shots and short putts. But he began the day by congratulating Poston on his win last week in Greensboro, recalling Liberty National’s course setup from the Presidents Cup two years ago, and reminding his other playing partner, Scott Piercy, on the new way to take a drop ball. (All together now: from the knee, not the shoulder.) This is the new Tiger Woods, ladies and gentlemen. He told the group how Charlie, his 10-year-old son, can get a little cheeky when he gets ahead of his father in a putting contest. Kids!

Would any of this be noteworthy if the golfer under discussion was not Tiger Woods? Of course not. But Tiger Woods has 15 majors and 81 Tour wins.  

In April, at Augusta, on Sunday, one of his playing partners, Tony Finau, tried to start a conversation, and quickly figured out that that was not going to happen. But Sunday at Augusta in the day’s last group is not Liberty National in the first round of the new-and-faster FedEx Playoffs.

On the long early-morning van ride from Liberty National’s Meet-George-Jetson clubhouse to the 10th tee, where their round was to begin, Woods sat right next to Poston and congratulated the 26-year-old golfer not just on his first Tour win, but how he did it. Along with Jim “Bones” Mackay of NBC Sports and Doug Ferguson of the AP, there are few people who follow the daily and weekly events of professional golf more closely than Woods. Do you need to know how many senior majors Bernhard Langer has won? Ask Tiger. Poston went 72 holes without making a bogey in his win last week. Tiger knew all about it. Tiger hated making bogeys, back in the day. 

“This was my first interaction with him, and he couldn’t have been nicer,” Poston said. The yardage book in his back right pocket is marked POSTMAN. “It far exceeded my expectations for the day.”

Poston’s caddie, Aaron Flener, has had a big five days here. On Sunday, at Greensboro, he carried the bag of a PGA Tour winner for the first time. On Thursday, he cleaned Tiger Woods’s golf ball for the first time. Joe LaCava was raking the bunker and Flener stepped in, as per the caddie code. “He hands you that ball and it says TIGER on it and you feel like his caddie for a second,” said Flener, a big bearded caddie from Glasgow, Ky.

Mike “Fluff” Cowan, who caddied for Woods when Woods was a rookie, will tell you that nobody, in his 40 or more years on Tour, hated making bogeys more than Woods, except for Curtis Strange. Woods surely still hates making bogeys, but maybe not as much as he once did. He made a bogey on the ninth, his last hole of the day, to finish four over. Poston finished four under. The two shook hands warmly.

Woods then gave a brief press conference on a little slope beside a practice green near the 10th tee. It was an odd configuration, in that the assembled reporters were actually higher than Woods, looking down at him. That never happens. Woods surely did not care. He took 15 or so questions in stride. Here’s a cherry-picked summary of his responses:

I just didn’t play well. I was just off. The back’s a little stiff but that’s just the way it’s going to be. I had to be four, five, six under today; I went the other way.

He’ll play again on Friday. He’ll play again next week. He will likely play in Atlanta. None of this matters, particularly. He’s the Masters champ. He wouldn’t trade his year with anybody. 

Michael Bamberger may be reached at [email protected]