Tiger Woods: ‘I need to get more rounds under my belt’
Return to the comfort and familiarity of Torrey Pines is not enough as he misses cut
Tiger Woods during the second round of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego. Photograph: PA
What his blanket is to Linus Van Pelt, Torrey Pines Golf Course is to Tiger Woods. The North and South layouts have been quilted courses of calm for Woods, who has won seven PGA Tour titles, a US Open and a junior championship on them.
Woods’ comfort level with Torrey Pines factored into his decision to make the Farmers Insurance Open, rather than a European Tour stop next week in the Middle East, his first full-field event after a 17-month, injury-induced layoff.
Only once in 15 previous starts in this event as a professional had Woods missed the cut when he played two rounds. But his familiarity with the place could not save him from the unknowns in his latest comeback.
With an even-par 72 on the North course, Woods improved by four shots on his Thursday score on the South, but his 36-hole total of 4 over par left him on the wrong side of the cut.
In his misery, Woods had plenty of illustrious company: World No. 1, Jason Day; reigning PGA Tour player of the year, Dustin Johnson; and 2016 US Ryder Cup team members Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker. The leader at the halfway point is Justin Rose, at 8 under.
As Woods proved during his low-key return to competition in a limited-field event in the Bahamas in December, making birdies is not a problem. He had 24 in four rounds there. In his two rounds this week, Woods had five birdies, one more than Billy Horschel, who made the even-par cut on the number. Mental mistakes and a few bad swings were Woods’ downfall, contributing to the seven bogeys and one double bogey on his scorecard.
In the first round, Woods got to 1 under with back-to-back birdies to begin his second nine, but he then had to lean on his play from inside 100 yards to save himself from a score higher than 79. In the second round, Woods’ course management, usually so polished, showed some tarnish.
On the par-3 third, his 12th hole, Woods chose the wrong club for the 245-yard tee shot into the wind. His effort using his 3-iron landed several yards short of the green, and he walked off with a bogey. On the drivable par-4 seventh, which was playing downwind, he chose to lay up and ended up with a disappointing par.
“I hit it much better today, which was nice,” said Woods, who hit 10 of 14 fairways. He opened with a birdie at the par-5 10th, but despite a few close calls on nice rolls, he failed to record another birdie until his 14th hole, another par-5.
Woods acknowledged that he needed to cut down on the “dumb mistakes” and said: “Playing tournament golf is a little bit different than playing with your buddies at home in a cart. I need to get more rounds under my belt, more playing time, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Woods, 41, will play in next week’s European Tour event in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and after a week off, he will make consecutive starts in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles and the Honda Classic in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
In his practice rounds at his home in Florida, Woods did not face cold weather and a biting wind that required playing in four layers. He did not have to endure stop-and-start rounds that took upward of five hours. And he did not have to hit out of thick rough. In facing all those challenges and more at Torrey Pines, Woods learned much about the state of his game that could prove valuable moving forward.
“He’s got to take things in stride,” said Horschel, who was in the group with Woods two years ago when Woods withdrew during the first round of this event after his back tightened up. “If anyone else came back after a year and a half, everyone would be patient and give him time.”
The added challenge for Woods, a 79-time winner on the tour, is that he is not just playing against fields full of old rivals and young and hungry up-and-comers - he is also competing against the player he was in his prime.
“The thing is that you can’t hold Tiger to the standards that he always talked about in his early 20s and 30s, when he talked about having his C-game,” Horschel said, adding, “He’s a changed man, and he’s a different golfer.”
Hunter Mahan does not know what it is like to be sidelined from competitive golf for more than 500 days. But he has missed a lot of weekends. Since last year’s Masters, Mahan had made only two cuts in 16 starts. With a second-round 70 on the North course, Mahan (3 under) made his first cut of this wraparound season. In describing his struggles, he supplied a glimpse of what Woods must be facing.
“You can practice all you want at home,” Mahan said. “When you get out here, all of the sudden, things move a lot faster. Your body’s moving faster, your clubs might not be moving as fast as you want them to. It’s amazing the difference, and there’s nothing that can replicate it.”
Mahan added, “You just have to get out here, keep working on it and keep your emotions in check.” It also helps to be patient, which Woods acknowledged is not his strength. “I’m not that kind of guy,” he said. He smiled as he spoke, which was perhaps the best sign of all.