ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods began his week fielding questions about the consequences of cheating on his wife of five years. He ended the week answering questions about the consequences of cheating on his putter of 11 years.
In another attempt to find a quick fix for the putting stroke that has brought him 14 major titles, including two on the Old Course, Woods ditched the Nike putter he used for the first three rounds of the 139th Open Championship and replaced it with his one-time old faithful, the Titleist Scotty Cameron Newport 2 that has had a home in his bag since 1999 — well, up until this week. Confused? So was Woods.
“I just didn’t feel comfortable with my speed, so I went back to my old putter,” he said after an untidy final-round 72 that left him at three under par for the championship and in a tie for 23rd.
So the Newport is back for good? “I don’t know,” Woods said.
Throughout his career Woods has frequently struggled with his driver, but rarely has he battled so mightily with his flatstick. “I feel satisfaction in the sense that I drove the ball well all week and hit my irons pretty good, but other than the first day I did not putt well at all,” Woods said. “You just can’t expect to win golf tournaments if you have nine or 10 three-putts for a week. No one can win doing that.”
It’s also difficult to win when you enter the final round of a tournament a dozen strokes off the lead, which is where Woods stood when he went off the first tee with Lucas Glover at 12:20 p.m. Woods actually started well, making birdies at the first and third holes, both par 4s, which suggested that perhaps Tiger’s decision to retrieve his Titleist putter from the naughty corner had paid off. But then came a lip-out that led to a double-bogey at the par-4 fourth, and another double at the par-4 seventh that featured yet another three-putt. (Not to mention a tee shot that forced Woods to pitch out backward from a fairway bunker.)
“If I got something going,” Woods said. “I would somehow find a way to stop the momentum.”
Woods has work to do to avoid getting blanked in the majors for the second consecutive season (his last major win was the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines). His next and final opportunity is in four weeks at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, a wild and windy links on the shore of Lake Michigan where Woods finished tied for 24th when the PGA last visited there in 2004. He said he’s not concerned about the state of his game, that it’s just a matter of time before everything clicks.
“Last year, early in the year, I was struggling pretty good,” Woods said. “But I put it back together again. All it is is practice and getting the reps in, and I’m going to go do that.”
Of course last year — until Nov. 27, that is — his life was not as complicated as it is today, with the National Enquirer tracking his every move, FBI investigators interrogating him and reports of a sticky divorce all over the tabloids. Questions about his gimpy left knee also linger, all of which has the sports media — with every passing major that Woods doesn’t win — questioning whether he will indeed break Jack Nicklaus’s vaunted record of 18 major titles.
After meeting the press this afternoon, Woods made his way to the rear of the R&A clubhouse, where courtesy cars drop off and pick up the players. Responding to screams of “Tiger! Tiger!” he walked over to a hoard of autograph-seekers penned behind a guardrail and signed a few hats and programs before retreating to a cluster of his confidants: his agent Mark Steinberg, his publicist Glenn Greenspan and his caddie Steve Williams. As Woods pecked away on his PDA, the crowds parted to make way for a black Lexus SUV. Williams loaded his boss’s clubs into the trunk — presumably the Nike putter was still in the bag — then clambered into the back seat next to Woods. Tiger’s fans, still hopeful for a signature, an apple core, anything, were still yelling Tiger’s name as he rolled away behind tinted windows.
Peter Muir, a computer programmer from Dundee, Scotland, was one of the lucky few to get a scribble from Woods. “Right here,” he said, pointing to the brim of a white 2010 Open golf cap. Muir, who plans to give the hat to his son, said that he was at St. Andrews in 2000 when Woods won his first Open. “He might not be as good as he was then,” Muir mused, “but he still draws a crowd.”
Putting woes be dammed.