PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. — Tiger Woods is old.
There’s no getting around that immovable fact. He’s 43, the age where most golfers start thinking about winnowing schedules and tuning up their broadcasting chops. He moves a little slower now, grimaces a little more, and you can see the therapeutic tape peeking up over the edge of his collar.
That’s natural, that’s normal, that happens to everyone. But when you’re Tiger freaking Woods, people have higher expectations of you. And rounds like Sunday at Pebble Beach at the U.S. Open — where Woods finished 2-under to end the week at 2-under, well off the -13 total of winner Gary Woodland — are exactly why.
Woods began the day at even par, 11 strokes behind leader Gary Woodland. There was zero chance Woods was going to close the gap and win his 16th major. None. But then Woods went out and bogeyed four of the first six holes, and you had to wonder if that whole Masters victory of a couple months back really happened.
Woods seemed distracted, bored, infuriated, disgusted, detached — pick your adjective, Tiger ran the negative gamut. What the hell was going on here? This was the easiest stretch on an expert-level golf course, and Woods was detonating his entire week within the space of an hour.
Would he get to double digits above par? Would he throw double birds at the 7th green and storm off the course? Would he throw his clubs into Stillwater Cove? Everything was on the table.
Everything, including Woods turning back the calendar to 2000. On the iconic 7th hole, Woods dropped his tee shot inside 14 feet to the cup. He birdied that hole and the next, and then birdied three of four starting at 13. This is some old-school Tiger game here:
Four-over through six holes; six-under on his next 12.
“I wish I would have known because I would have turned it around a little earlier than that,” he said after his round. “Again, got off to another crappy start and was able to fight it off. Turned back around and got it to under par for the week which is -- normally it's a good thing, but this week the guys are definitely taking to it.”
So where does all this leave Woods?
In an ongoing battle with himself. When he’s good, he’s able to beat the world. When he’s off, he has trouble even making the cut. There’s no middle ground there. He’s smart enough to outthink every golf course, but he’s not always sharp enough.
Woods’ next major test comes next month at the Open Championship, and then it’s a long nine-month wait until Augusta 2020. We don’t know how he’ll fare, but after a mostly down week and a mostly impressive final 12 holes, we know that everything is still on the table. Everything.
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