UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. (AP) — Something good finally happened to Tiger Woods at the U.S. Open on Friday.
He found a golf ball.
It took some digging, but Woods is getting used to that. Still, he seemed a bit startled when someone’s long lost Titleist popped off his club as he took a practice swing in the deep rough off the third fairway.
“Can you believe that?” Woods said, drawing laughs from spectators before picking up the ball and tossing it to his caddie.
Actually, it wasn’t that tough to believe. Chambers Bay has some patches of rough where golf balls go and mowers don’t.
What was harder to believe was how bad the man who once dominated golf continues to play. Woods not only missed the cut in the Open he’s won three times, but did it with barely a whimper.
He imploded early in his opening round on his way to a big, fat 80 that was his worst first-round score on the PGA Tour by three shots. He added a 76 on Friday that was capped by three straight three-putts to finish.
Other than finding a ball, about the only other good news was his private jet was fueled and ready to get him quickly out of town.
“Obviously I need to get better for the British Open,” Wood said, “and I’ll work on it.”
Just how much of that work is physical and how much mental only Woods knows, and he’s not saying. He hit shots at Chambers Bay like the Tiger of old at times, only to follow them with either silly mistakes or mishits that would make a weekend hacker cringe.
The only consistent is that he is terribly inconsistent.
It’s almost enough to make you feel sorry for the player once both feared and revered. He has become a sympathetic figure of sorts, with the fans who watched him walk by Friday shouting out words of encouragement.
“Fourteen majors, no worries,” one yelled out.
“Minor setback for a major comeback,” screamed another.
With each passing round, though, the comeback seems less certain. Woods remains trapped between swings and no longer has the ability to almost will balls into the hole with his putter in hand.
Worse yet, the player with 14 major titles and 79 PGA Tour wins seems to be paralyzed at times by the fear of bad things happening.
He also remains stuck in the answers he has perfected that don’t come close to explaining anything about his perplexing collapse.
“Just continue practicing, continue working on it,” Woods said. “And hopefully it will be a little bit better.”
Just how much better it has to get was on display Friday as Woods and playing partner Rickie Fowler set out at double digits over par before they had even hit a shot.
In the group in front of them, Jordan Spieth was adding a nifty 67 to his opening 68 to take the early second-round lead. Woods, who was 15 shots back of the lead when the day began, was 17 behind by the time he made the turn.
When he finished he was a staggering 21 shots back, and so badly whipped that he didn’t even try to joke about it like he did the day before.
“On a golf course like this you get exposed and you have to be precise and dialed in,” Woods said. “And obviously I didn’t have that.”
If there is one side benefit to his struggles it’s that Woods has been sufficiently humbled that he has become friendlier with the fellow pros he once mostly ignored. He and Fowler chatted between shots Friday, and Woods said after the round he was going to call Jason Day to see if he was OK after collapsing with apparent vertigo issues.
That’s not to say there is a lot of sympathy from competitors who worry more about their own games.
“Wish him the best,” Spieth said when asked if Woods’ woes were a big topic among players. “But as far as talking about it, no, there’s really no murmur, we’re just focusing on ourselves.”
Woods will return to play next in the Greenbrier Classic, hoping to regain some of his game before the British Open next month. That’s at St. Andrews, where he won in 2000 as part of the Tiger Slam and again in 2005.
It’s a course Woods knows and plays well, one where he might have a chance to at least be respectable, much like the Masters earlier this year.
Until then he’ll have bad memories of another wasted major, one he knew he had no chance the minute he whiffed on an iron shot on his first hole in the opening round.
About the only thing he can take away from Chambers Bay is one more ball than he arrived with.
This clarifies that 80 was Woods’ worst first-round score on PGA Tour.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg
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