August 05, 2010
Well, that was ugly. Ugly, ugly, ugly. It's the only way to truly describe the first round of the Bridgestone Invitational in the eyes of Tiger Woods. We've seen him struggle this year with his golf game, from missed putts at big moments at the Masters to putter changes at St. Andrews, but nothing like this.
Put it this way: You can go on some dates here or there, but you always know the girl you have your eyes set on. That is Firestone for Tiger. This is his baby. This is the golf course that has yielded seven of his 71 PGA Tour wins. This is the venue that was made for Tiger Woods. Tight fairways that force you to drive the ball well off the tee, and shape your shots into the tough greens, Firestone Country Club is where Tiger licks his chops.
[Related: Tiger Woods stirs up Ryder Cup questions]
But here we are, in 2010, when Tiger looks as much like the world No. 1 as Basil Marceaux looks fit for Tennessee governor. On Thursday at Firestone, Tiger shot a 4-over 74, his worst round ever at this course by two shots.
The question gets asked a lot about what exactly is wrong with Tiger's golf game, and this round was exactly what you should show friends the next time they bring that up. He can't hit fairways, and when he does, he doesn't get the ball close to the hole. If he does get it close to the hole, he's burning edges, and he occasionally throws in a short par-putt miss, like on the ninth hole on Thursday. Tiger hit five fairways in the first round to go with his 11 greens in regulation and 32 putts, some stats that seem more likely to summarize a round you and I throw together, not a 14-time major winner.
[Photos: See Tiger's first-round flop]
The problem is, as golf fans (and I'm as much to blame as anyone), we keep reverting back to the Tiger Woods we used to know. He was the guy that always made the important putt and always hit the appropriate shot and could turn a 2-over round into a 2-under round in a matter of holes. As Tiger hit a 313-yard drive in the fairway on the 18th, one of the announcers commented "I should think Tiger will make 3 at the last," as to say he is expecting nothing less than birdie. But, that is where we forget. He isn't that guy anymore, it appears. This round told us that.
On Wednesday at Firestone, as Tiger pleaded more with himself than he did with us about how he plans to play his way onto the Ryder Cup team, we all probably figured it was a formality that such a thing would happen. But again, we were thinking of that guy we used to know. You know, the one that won all these things, and stuck shots on 18.
Now, he's a professional golfer with a balky short game, an errant driver, and suspect irons. Tiger was fortunate on Thursday to post the number he did, considering on most of the par-4s he was punching out in hopes of finding the putting surface.
Maybe Friday will bring something different, but at this point, we need to be realistic. Tiger's game just isn't good enough right now to compete. It's time we all swallow that truth.
Oh, and on the 18th? Yeah, Tiger made par. So much for that 3, right?