PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland — After missing the 2019 British Open cut, theories abound about the state of Tiger Woods’ career. In some dark corners of the internet where winces turn into heart attacks and limited answers mean there is a sinister backstory, the speculation is irresponsible.
Step back people. This is not complicated. But the simplicity of it all may be hard for some to hear.
Tiger Woods is a part-time golfer who has other priorities in life and in his career. You would too if you were 43, owned a jet, had children you adore, a fifth green jacket in the closet and a mega-yacht.
As much as we’d love him to explicitly address the state of his lower back with Tweeted X-rays and results of doctor visits, that’s not Tiger nor ever will be. He has dropped enough hints about changing priorities and the energy sapped from trying to keep his body well for golf. But in a world where Roger Federer and Serena Williams barely age, the new Tiger reality looks so starkly different from the uber-devoted athlete we once knew.
From what we heard and saw at Portrush, Tiger’s not feeling his best. He’s too proud to openly admit how much he’s been struggling to get loose and feel good in the cool weather plaguing this bizarrely grey and frigid major season.
There have been plenty of comments suggesting Woods never regained the energy that fueled his run-up to the Masters. And no shortage of signs that all of these minor irritants have chipped away at his feistiness.
“I’m just not moving as well as I’d like,” Woods said after round one here in Northern Ireland.
Asked after a more respectful 70 where he practically shuffled in slow motion around Portrush, Woods first said he’s not experiencing major physical issues.
“This is just me not playing well and not scoring well, and adds up to high scores.”
Some might shout burnout when hearing him talk of all of this post-Masters mediocrity with such grace and no thrown clubs. But if you listen closely, Tiger achieved a career goal in April, enjoyed the fruits of his labor, and never mustered the fire to grind during 2019’s condensed major schedule.
“I just want some time off just to get away from it,” he said, looking surprisingly fresh but sounding oddly weary given just three starts since Augusta.
“I had a long trip to Thailand and then trying to get ready for this event, to play this event, it’s been a lot of travel, a lot of time in the air, a lot of moving around and different hotels and everything.”
Then came the most genuine moment of his post-round gathering.
“I just want to go home.”
At least there was some good news for the PGA Tour: Woods sounds excited to make a playoff run and arrive at East Lake with a chance to win the FedEx Cup.
That a change in priorities plagues him appears to be a welcomed far cry from the days when we wondered if we’d ever see him swing a club. Or swing it with any proficiency. Or walk around a golf course at all.
Step back a bit more and look at the swing.
The fundamentals are there. The rhythm, plane and confidence are still there. There is no talk of finding a new swing coach or a new driver or changing his technique to get more distance. The putting is more than fine, though his short game was not nearly as sharp as he claimed before the tournament.
As tough as it is to wrap our heads around something so simple we need to accept that Woods will only have limited runs going forward, with most of his time spent enjoying life. Preferably in some warmer weather.