Tiger Woods finds answers with driver, struggles with putter at Northern Trust

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Tiger Woods finds answers with driver, struggles with putter at Northern Trust

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods finds answers with driver, struggles with putter at Northern Trust

PARAMUS, N.J. – Where did all the highlights go?

Tiger Woods’ final round at the PGA Championship was a montage of spectacular recovery shots, eight birdies, tons of drama and the best major environment in years. It was the most exciting day of the season and everyone wanted to see what Woods had in store for an encore to start the FedEx Cup Playoffs at the Northern Trust.

The answer? Pars. So many pars.

Woods teed off at 7:54 a.m. ET Thursday when Ridgewood Country Club was barely awake, and he lulled everyone back to sleep with a performance that was kind of … boring? Not horrible. Just boring. Especially considering the show he put on two weeks prior in St. Louis.

“Just the way it goes,” Woods said. “You have good weeks and you have bad weeks.”

You also have good clubs and bad clubs, and that’s where the curveball came in New Jersey.

Woods couldn’t make anything on the greens during his worst putting week since the Memorial in early June. He also had total command of the driver in what was his best week off the tee since the Wells Fargo back in May.

It all added up to a 4-under 280 showing on the week with some astonishing totals – 58 pars, nine birdies and just five bogeys.

That’s the first time this season Woods has failed to reach double-digit birdies over four rounds, but five bogeys is also fewest he’s had this season over 72 holes.

Everything blended together in what felt like one long round rather than a four-day battle of attrition. It went like this: Pipe a drive down the middle. Hit a reasonably close approach shot into the green. Miss a putt. Tap in for par. Repeat.

So it was a brutal week in the sense that absolutely nothing fell, and Woods lipped out about five putts on Sunday alone. What he did off the tee was promising though, especially since the driver has given him so much trouble this season.

Over his final three rounds, Woods hit driver 31 times and found the fairway on 25 attempts. Finally it looked like he found a powerful, repeatable swing, maybe the result of an old shaft he went back to for the week, one he should definitely keep attached through the playoffs and into the Ryder Cup in Paris.

If he can keep swinging it like this off the tee, everything changes.

“I found a piece of my game that has been missing, which is driving it well,” Woods said. “But you have to make putts. That’s the only way we’re going to shoot low rounds. I didn’t do it this week.”

Just as we know Woods won’t miss this many putts throughout the fall, we know he won’t sustain those accuracy numbers. Discounting 3-woods and irons off the tee, Woods hit the fairways more than 80 percent of the time Friday through Sunday. Ken Duke leads the Tour in accuracy off the tee at 77.98 percent.

It was that good of a week tee-to-green, but at a certain point it didn’t really matter. Even after another perfect drive and reasonable iron shot, the putts just weren’t gonna fall.

Woods was headed home for a few days after the Northern Trust to recover and prepare for a stretch he hoped would include three more playoff events and a spot in the Ryder Cup.

“At 42 years old, that’s a little different now,” Woods said. “I don’t go run three to five miles post-round to relax. Those days are long gone. It’s about trying to recover and be ready for the next day.”

For a long time, Woods didn’t have a next day to look forward to. Just another doctor’s visit, another diagnosis, another back surgery, another futile attempt to compete.

This season he’s had plenty of next days and put the bad ones behind him. After a rough week at Quail Hollow, he bounced back with an electric weekend and T-11 finish at the Players Championship. After an all-around brutal week at the U.S. Open, he knocked off back-to-back top-6 finishes at the Quicken Loans National and British Open.

His solo second at the PGA Championship came just a week after a mediocre week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Woods’ putter has come and gone this year, but he finished the regular season 27th in strokes gained: putting. His iron play has been consistently strong.

The only consistently weak part of Woods’ game has been driving accuracy. If he can even get back to average there, it’ll take a lot of pressure off the rest of his game down the playoff stretch.

“He’s been working pretty hard at it,” caddie Joe LaCava said. “He tweaked (the driver) a little bit this week and now he’s confident with a little more loft, a little high draw, so it’s nice.”

Finally figuring out one part of the game only to see another normally reliable part fall off is golf in a nutshell.

“I’m sure you guys are used to seeing me win five times a year or more,” Woods said. “It’s not that easy to win out here. That’s what you’re seeing is that I’m close and just one shot here, one shot there, per day, flips momentum.”

That’s why Woods wasn’t too worried about the putter, and it’s why you can rest assured that more highlights are coming before season’s end.

(Note: This story appears in the September 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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