Lynch: Tiger's season may finish in Chicago, but it really ended at Augusta

Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

Lynch: Tiger's season may finish in Chicago, but it really ended at Augusta

PGA Tour

Lynch: Tiger's season may finish in Chicago, but it really ended at Augusta

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JERSEY CITY, N.J. — There is no Strokes Gained statistic that measures a man’s energy or his passion, which is probably just as well for Tiger Woods since any reading would surely have been as uninspiring as the other numbers he produced Thursday at the Northern Trust.

The last time Woods was at Liberty National Golf Club was in the fall of 2017, when he was a captain’s assistant at the Presidents Cup and deep into an injury layoff that left him unsure if he would ever again play golf at the highest level. He did, as we all know. In one of the most remarkable comebacks in sport, Woods won the Tour Championship last September and a fifth Masters title in April. But since then Woods has been a seldom-seen ghostly figure on Tour, appearing somewhere between physically spent and emotionally uninterested.

THE NORTHERN TRUST: Scores | Forward Press podcast | Photos

His week at Liberty National was effectively over by lunchtime on Day One. His four-over-par 75 was a hodgepodge of erratic tee shots, mediocre irons and uninspired putting. Worse is that it came on an easy golf course, where more than half the field was under par by early afternoon. The Masters champion was at the shabby end of the leaderboard, 13 shots off the pace. There weren’t many positive takeaways from his post-round comments.

“I just didn’t play well.”

“It was just off.”

“I had my opportunities to turn it around and I didn’t do it.”

“I was off.”

Woods entered the week 28th in the FedEx Cup standings, guaranteed a spot in next week’s BMW Championship in Chicago, where the top 70 players advance. A missed cut at the Northern Trust — which would seem highly likely at this juncture — will leave Woods outside the top 30 on the points list heading to Chicago. Which means he would have to fight to qualify for the Tour Championship at East Lake. And fight is one thing he seems short of these days.

Tiger Woods on the 16th green during the first round of the 2019 Northern Trust at Liberty National. Photo: Mark Konezny/USA TODAY Sports

Woods has immense pride — even in the darkest of times that never changed — but that famous passion is gone, for now at least. He admitted this week to aches and pains that make high-level golf next to impossible some days. But there have also been days when he insists his balky back is fine and that he simply played poorly. “It’s a little bit stiff, yeah, but that’s just the way it’s going to be,” he said with a resigned realism.

Barring a bounce-back on Friday — he will need something in the mid-to-low 60s to have any chance of making the cut — and a turnaround in his form next week at Medinah, Woods’ season will likely end in Chicago. In retrospect it probably ended April 14, the day he slipped into the green jacket at Augusta National. Woods is not a man who plays for trophies with title sponsors. Nothing else he did for the year would matter more than the Masters, and Woods knew it.

Like many an affluent father, Woods took most of the summer off. Unfortunately, he works in an industry that places a premium on performances delivered during those months. The Northern Trust is only his second non-major start since the Masters. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship in May, labored to a T-21 at the Pebble Beach in the U.S. Open, then had another early exit at the Open Championship.

Woods’ slender schedule has less in common with a major champion than with Jack Nicklaus when he joined the senior circuit 30 years ago — just the majors and a handful of other events. In short, be a legend in his spare time.

And maybe that’s enough for his fans, who for several years had to consider the prospect that their hero couldn’t even get healthy enough to be a part-time player. No matter how poorly he played Thursday, or how truncated his run in the FedEx Cup playoffs may prove to be, there exists no measure by which Woods’ year can be deemed a failure. He carries himself with the air of a man who knows as much. The king has abdicated his throne for the rest of the year.

Best to just give thanks for what he brought to the battlefield while he could, and hope for the same in 2020.

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