HOYLAKE, England — Tiger Woods’ British Open ended at 1:13 p.m. local time Sunday afternoon. The questions of how he can salvage his season are only beginning.
For those keeping score, and at the British Open they always do, Woods shot a 75 on Sunday and finished 6-over par at a tournament he had no chance of winning once he’d completed 20 holes.
“I just made too many mistakes,” Woods said. “I had two triples, two doubles, two or three 3-putts this week, just way too many mistakes.”
Those numbers won’t be remembered, but what will linger longer, possibly for years as Woods continues into his career twilight, is the lost opportunity this season presented for him.
Seven months ago the upcoming set of major venues, now three-quarters complete, looked hand-picked for Woods. He had won titles on three of the four courses and was fresh off a turn-back-the-clock five-win season. It’s easy to forget those five Ws today, isn’t it? Earlier this year Woods revealed that he was hurting, and after playing middling golf in four events, he shut down a week before the Masters for back surgery.
We should’ve known not to expect much from Woods here at Royal Liverpool; he had played only one tune-up event post-surgery and badly missed the cut. But whenever he’s at the podium Woods likes to re-emphasize his unwavering goal to win every tournament he enters, and those kinds of statements tend to get printed. He said it again this week, although it’s fair to wonder if he really believed it. After 72 holes, it’s clear he was not ready to win. Back surgeries aren’t easy.
“Obviously there's a lot of things I need to work on, but I haven't been able to work on a lot. I was down for three months. So I'm just now starting to come back,” Woods said before adding that he’s happy with his progress post-surgery. “I'm only getting stronger and faster, which is great.”
The only thing that resembled Woods’ glory days this week were the big crowds and general craziness that flowed with him along the ropes. When Tiger hit his approach to the third hole on Saturday, one fan hollered, “Pancakes!” (“Mashed potatoes” guy must not have a passport.) On Thursday an emboldened fan asked a marshal for permission to film a cell phone video as Woods walked past. The request was quickly denied, but the young man stepped away and shot the video anyway.
With Royal Liverpool behind him, Woods faces a new set of questions. Can he right himself in time for the PGA Championship in three weeks? The course, Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, is the site of one of his great triumphs, the sudden-death win over Cinderella journeyman Bob May in 2000. Those video highlights will soon start popping up again on a loop. Can Woods add anything to the reel this year? It seems like a long shot.
As time continues to tick along, the date of Woods’ last major victory feels less like a relevant sports statistic and more like a pop culture footnote. On June 17, 2008, “Lollipop” by Lil Wayne was the No. 1 song in America, "The Incredible Hulk" was the top movie, and Tiger Woods won his last major title.
This is where we are.
Woods’ struggle of course remains a popular topic among the talking set. Earlier this week, Paul Azinger said on ESPN that he believes Woods’ issues aren’t physical or mental, but “emotional.” Brandel Chamblee said on Golf Channel that Tiger’s recalibrated swing simply doesn’t work. “You’re talking about a guy who has willfully dismantled a golf swing that made him the best player in the world,” Chamblee said. “The golf swing he has now will not hold up like the one before.” Everyone has an opinion.
One assessment of Woods that’s sure to resonate belongs to Tom Watson, U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Should Woods fail to factor in his next two scheduled events, the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks and the PGA Championship a week later, Woods won’t qualify for the four-event FedEx Cup playoff and his season will be over.
Woods said Sunday if he were in Watson’s shoes, he’d still pick himself for the team.
“I would say yes. But that's my position, my take on it,” Woods said. “He's the captain. Obviously it's his decision. He's going to field the best 12 players that he thinks will win the Cup back. And I hope I'm on that team.”
At the end of his final round, Watson, who finished five shots better than Woods, said he still views Woods as a viable pick, but will look for Woods to show better in his next two events. “If he's playing well and in good health, I'll pick him. But the caveat to that is if he does make the FedEx Cup team, what do I do then?” he said. “He needed to get in the mix to get some points to get some money and get in the FedEx Cup. That's what I was hoping he was doing this week. “
On Saturday afternoon Watson was asked if he’d spoken directly with Woods at Royal Liverpool. Watson said simply, “I just said hello to him.” When further pressed, Watson repeated himself. “I just said hello.”
This week nothing else needed to be said. More questions are coming soon.