Sun Jun 20 08:59pm EDT
After an intensely mediocre first two days, Tiger Woods carded one of the best rounds of the U.S. Open on Saturday, bringing in a 5-under 66 that put him within striking range of leader Dustin Johnson. Tiger's fans were salivating, ready to welcome back the world No. 1 golfer to the pinnacle of the world stage.
Yeah, well ... it didn't quite work out that way.
Woods played Sunday as if Saturday had never happened, bogeying the first hole and three of the first six. And although he had a fine birdie on 14 — a hole that most of the rest of the leaders bogeyed — Woods never seemed at all at ease on Sunday. He didn't sling clubs or get caught on camera cursing, but his exasperation at shot after shot was evident almost every time he showed up on America's TV screens. Clearly, little is going as it has in the past with Tiger's game.
The question, of course, is why. Is Woods still recovering from the neck injury that sidelined him earlier this year? Is his game still rusty from his transgression-related layoff? Should he have stayed with swing coach Hank Haney, or should he hire another coach instead of going it alone? Is age starting to take its toll on Woods? Has the off-course pressure of the last few months wrecked his famed mental toughness?
My take on the above questions: yes, yep, uh-huh, you bet, absolutely, and damn straight. Woods' entire game is a mess right now, and there's no sign that recovery is anywhere on the horizon.
Now, let's put this in perspective — Woods' "off weeks" are still good enough to put him well inside the top 10 of any tournament. He finished tied for fourth at the Open with Phil Mickelson. He's being judged by an unfair standard — his own legacy. If he's ever able to get even two or three of the above questions answered and resolved, he'll be right back to hammering the entire field. But based on his wildly inconsistent play over the last couple months, the field has a little bit of breathing room.