What’s gone wrong (and right!) for Tiger Woods at the Memorial?
Through the first three holes of Tiger Woods’ return at the Memorial, he looked every bit like a world-beater. Through 18 holes, he still looked like a contender. In control off the tee. That characteristic smooth tempo. Scaring flagsticks.
Most of the way through his second round, Woods looked like a distinctly different player. Hitting drives one-handed. Missing short putts. Wincing?!
“Well, I finished birdie-birdie-par. That’s about the only positive to it today,” he said.
That late rally left Woods at the edge of the cut line, three over par after a second-round 76. And it left the rest of us wondering: What was different on Friday, leaving Woods on the brink of his first missed cut in 17 tries at Muirfield Village? And what does it mean going forward? Let’s dive into what we know from his first two rounds back.
Off the tee
Woods’ opening tee shot at No. 10 on Friday morning went hard left. At 13, left again. Then Woods was wide right at 15, wide right at 17, wide right at 18 — then made the turn and missed right with driver on 2, 5, and 6. Needing to hit the fairway at 7, he manufactured a little one-handed cut, but it hardly looked quite right. Needing to find the fairway at No. 9, he hit another block into the right trees (with a big wince. It’s a heck of a lot tougher to play Muirfield Village from the rough.
Plus, something’s up with Woods’ speed. In 2018, he averaged 178 mph ball speed. Friday, he cracked 170 on two of his first three tee shots of the day but never hit that threshold again. His driver was carrying between 270 and 280, which is certainly a drop from Woods at his powerful peak.
On Thursday, Woods’ 14 drives went an average of 295 yards, which left him in the middle of the pack. Friday that number dipped to 276.2, near the very bottom of the field.
Even when he’s not right, he’s still elite in this department. Woods gained more than a stroke and a half on the field with an iron in his hands in the second round. Despite feeling off, he still saved himself with his irons and wedges. That was especially true on No. 9, where he needed to get up-and-down for any chance at the weekend — and hit it darn close.
Whatever Woods’ woes, his irons are not among them.
Woods showed off a decent bunker game, getting up twice in three tries on Friday. But he was just 1 for 5 from everywhere else. That’s no bueno.
Woods has mentioned in the past that when his back hurts, he struggles to get comfortable over putts. On Friday, he said his back was hurt — and he certainly struggled over short putts. Woods three-putted twice in his first four holes and lost over three shots to the field with his normally trusty flatstick. Still, he poured in three clutch putts on 7, 8 and 9 to give himself a chance at the weekend. That’s worth something!
Woods doesn’t like to say that he’s hurt or that he’s injured, but he’s increasingly willing to acknowledge that not all is well on days his body refuses to cooperate.
“Yeah, I wasn’t quite moving as well as I’d like and couldn’t quite turn back and couldn’t quite clear. It was a bit of a struggle,” he said, adding that he didn’t feel quite right during his warmup and that things never quite improved from there.
Woods added a few more thoughts on the matter, mostly in short, staccato answers, about feeling tight, losing stamina, conserving energy. Every golfer knows the mixed feelings that come after an exhausting round with a satisfying finish. Woods sounded tired.
Getting older (and still grinding!)
I will present the final three questions and answers from Woods’ post-round press conference without any comment, except to say that they may remind you of your own aging, and remind you to admire the way Woods pressed on for a birdie-birdie-par finish.
Q. How are you doing with aging? It’s a challenge.
TIGER WOODS: Aging is not fun. Early on in my career I thought it was fantastic because I was getting better and better and better, and now I’m just trying to hold on.
Q. How would you define the term “grinder,” and do you consider yourself one?
TIGER WOODS: I think that anyone who fights all day, I think that’s the guys that have typically been grinders, guys that don’t ever want to make bogeys.
Q. Do you consider yourself one?
TIGER WOODS: Always have.