One of the misguided concepts people bandied about in the preseason was this notion that Tiger Woods was virtually a lock to win a 2014 major championship because of where they would be played.
Augusta National for the Masters, where he has won four times.
Pinehurst No. 2 for the U.S., where he finished third in ’99 and second in ’05.
Royal Liverpool for the Open Championship, where he scored a resounding victory in 2006.
Valhalla for the PGA Championship, where he also won a major.
The logic had a foundation, but there were serious flaws – starting with the basics. Like, he’s not the golfer he once was, his health isn’t what it was when he was 28, and there’s better competition with more players than ever hitting it further than him. But the most rational case against these folks’ argument was this: The major courses aren’t likely to be what Woods remembers them as and thus his advantage might not be what people like to imagine.
Pinehurst, thanks to Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore, is far different (and far better). It’s unlikely that Liverpool will be the cement-like surface it was eight summers ago. And Valhalla? We’ve lost track of how many changes they’ve made since Woods saw it last, in 2000.
Look no further than what happened at Doral to understand how dramatic course changes can take away whatever advantage a player may have. In 10 visits to Doral’s Blue Monster – four times as a regular PGA Tour event, six times as a World Golf Championship – Woods had played a total of 39 rounds, 34 of them under par, 23 in the 60s, only 3 over par. This year, his first at the Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner re-do? Woods was in the 60s once, over par three times.
His highest score had been a 74 at the old place, but he was higher than that twice this time around, including Sunday’s 78 when he began with a chance to win.
Take two distinctly different holes for a further sampling. The par-5 1st, for example. Used to be Woods, like many others, would play this hole as if on cruise control – driver or 3-wood, then a mid-iron, then a two-putt birdie or maybe the occasional eagle. In 39 official tries at it, Woods had 31 birdies, 3 eagles, 5 pars and 0 bogeys – as in zero! – for a scoring average of 4.051.
Heck, in one stretch, Round 1 in 2002 to Round 2 in 2008, Woods played that hole 18 times in 16 birdies and 2 eagles.
Lengthened by approximately 100 yards this year and with bunkers added, it was an entirely different hole and Woods responded with one birdie and three pars.
Similarly, the par-3 13th gave him fits this time around, which was never the case. In his 39 previous rounds Woods made 5 birdies, 27 pars, 7 bogeys for a cumulative 2-over aggregate. This year, with a new green and new bunkers, Woods made four consecutive bogeys.
Now you can chalk it up to the back issues he said he’s having or to rust on his game, but it also could indicate further that if he’s not familiar with a course – and clearly, the Blue Monster at Trump National Doral isn’t the Blue Monster from yesteryear – he’s not as effective. Remember, the last time Woods won on a venue at which he had never played was the Aussie Masters at Kingston Heath in 2009. On the PGA Tour it was the 2006 American Express Championship on The Grove in England.