Tiger Woods left to reflect on another lost season

The spectacular golf Woods played at Valhalla 14 years ago a distant memory as he struggled around a course where he once stood so tall

Tiger Woods grimaces in pain as he drives from the 17th tee at Valhalla. Photograph:  Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

Tiger Woods grimaces in pain as he drives from the 17th tee at Valhalla. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/The New York Times

Sat, Aug 9, 2014, 12:21

Whether Tiger Woods would, or even should, play in this week’s US PGA Championship generated a great deal of debate, given the state of his back. But the poor state of his game over 36 holes at Valhalla Golf Club, the site of one of his most notable victories, left little doubt that 2014 would go down as another lost season for him.

Spraying shots and missing short putts, wincing in both pain and frustration, Woods shot a 74 in Friday’s second round to miss the cut for only the fourth time in 66 major championships as a professional. A 14-time major winner, he has finished in the top five in majors 17 other times. But with his body aching and his swing limited by injury, this Woods, playing in only his seventh PGA Tour event this season, is not that Woods.

Woods, who had microdiscectomy surgery on March 31st to alleviate a pinched nerve, said that while warming up before his round, he aggravated the injury that forced him out of last week’s Bridgestone Invitational.

“It was telling me on the range that it probably wasn’t a good idea to play”, Woods said. “But I’m not exactly a nonstubborn-type person.”

It did not take long for the second round to unfold as an exercise in frustration for Woods, who as a dynamic 24-year-old won the 2000 US PGA Championship at Valhalla for the third of four straight victories in major championships. The spectacular golf he played in the final round 14 years ago to defeat Bob May in a playoff seemed a distant memory as he struggled around a course where he once stood so tall.

Woods was forced to get up and down for pars on the first two holes. Then, after a wonderful tee shot on the 196-yard fourth hole, Woods missed a three-foot birdie putt. Trying to save par with a 6-footer on the fourth after landing in a bunker off the tee, he missed that putt, too, setting in motion an hour or so of ugly golf that erased any hope he would play the final 36 holes. His total of 148 was five strokes too many to qualify for the weekend.

He pulled his 3-wood tee shot badly on the 488-yard, par-4 sixth hole, and he had to play his approach with a fairway metal from a steep lie on the side of a hill, the ball far above his feet. He lashed the shot into the rough, well short of the green. A spectator shouted “Best ever” after Woods’ swing - not an appraisal of the shot, but an echo of the greatness Woods is seeking to rediscover. He reached the green on his next shot, but three-putted from 18 feet for a double bogey.

After hitting a wild drive to the left on the par-5 seventh hole, Woods grimaced and grabbed his back. A bogey put him at seven over par. As Woods completed the front nine, it seemed as if his back was giving him so much discomfort that he would be forced to withdraw, as he did in the final round last week. He played on, however, recording a string of pars but failing to produce anything approaching the calibre of golf for which he is known.

“He’s not even limping properly,” David Feherty quipped on the TNT broadcast as Woods played the 13th hole, where he hit a pitching wedge to four feet but missed the birdie putt. Woods finally made his first birdie of the day, from 10 feet, on No. 15.

After a bogey on the 16th hole, he finished his tournament with a birdie on the par-5 18th hole, and this year’s US PGA Championship joined the 2006 US Open, the 2009 British Open and the 2011 PGA as the only majors he has played as a professional in which he missed the cut

“I don’t know,” Woods said afterward when asked when he would play again. He said he needed to strengthen his core muscles to regain his form. “I need to get my glutes strong again, my abs and my core back to where I used to have them,” he said. “I just can’t get the club back. I can’t get anywhere near the positions I’m accustomed to getting to. It’s very frustrating.”

There was no uncertainty when Woods was asked if he felt old. “I felt old a long time ago,” he said. “Darn near 20 years out here.” New York Times

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