Just like that, Tiger Woods went from cruising to heading south Friday, from 5 under par on his first 13 holes to 6 over on the last five, from charging to tied for third-to-last place. It was a remarkable turn of events, one of the most unusual in Woods’ career.
Almost as interesting was his uncharacteristic reasoning for the closing slide that included triple and double bogeys.
“I put everything I had into that start and didn’t have much at the end,” the workout enthusiast said after shooting 71 in the Tour Championship second round. “Just ran out of gas. . . . I’m tired.”
A few longtime Woods observers, including this one, said they had never heard such talk from the man who has won 14 major championships. Reasons of injury, yes. Fatigue, no. He has said he works out intensely to prevent getting tired in tournaments.
His body lean and muscular, the World No. 1 appears to be the picture of physical fitness at 37, perhaps as much as one can after four knee surgeries. His back has stiffened up on him in recent weeks, but when asked if ailments contributed to his 73 start and the Day 2 collapse, he deflected, saying, “It’s been just a long, long grind.”
The part of the body he did mention as a contributing factor wasn’t the back.
“My legs were just tired,” Woods said. “I didn’t rotate through the ball, and I turned it over.”
He was referring to hooked tee shots with fairway woods on his two blowup holes at East Lake Golf Club. He found a “mulchy” lie in the left trees and then came up short in the left rough and sand in double-bogeying the 454-yard 14th.
That halted his momentum and was followed by a bogey at 16, where he hit a poor chip 24 feet short, and the triple at the 447-yard 17th.
Former Woods coach Hank Haney and ex-caddie Steve Williams used to say that Woods feared trouble left, particularly water. Those sentiments were recalled when Woods tugged his drive into water way left on the penultimate hole. He found the fairway after dropping on the ladies’ tee, then came up short of the green and hit a putt up a fairway ramp that ended up 18 feet shy of the hole.
Watching him chop like that was hard to process, particularly given his start. It was tiring to watch, so you can imagine how he felt.
“We’re all looking forward to that week off (before the Presidents Cup),” Woods said. “Everyone out here has got some knick-knack injuries, and guys are taped up and banged up a little.”
Woods again pointed out that top professionals play a lot of important tournaments without much of a break starting at the Open Championship. He has excelled during that stretch in some years, gaining momentum along the way. He said Friday that some of those times, he has been as worn out as he is this year.
You would have thought he was energized in making five birdies on the first 13 holes Friday. The spree followed just the seventh birdie-less round in his PGA Tour career and his first since the 2010 U.S. Open. He took 34 putts on opening day, with all of his misses but one on the high side on greens slower than anticipated.
He stopped over-reading Friday and got rolling on a 10-foot birdie putt at the third, where he raised his arms in celebration.
“It was finally nice to make a birdie in, what was that, 21 holes?” he said.
Yes, 21. That’s good in blackjack but not golf.
He would then birdie Nos. 8 and 12 from 4 feet, two putt the par-5 ninth and roll in a 15-footer at 13. From there he went down – though he refused to count himself out even though he’s 14 shots off Henrik Stenson’s midway lead.
“No, I’m still in contention,” Woods insisted, sounding unrealistic. “There’s 36 holes. That’s why we play four rounds. This is not a sprint. It’s tournament golf. It’s four rounds. It’s a marathon. You’re got to keep plugging around.”
If your legs allow you, anyway.