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JON MCCARTHY: Woods misses cut, but write him off at your peril

- Reuters

PORTRUSH, Northern Ireland – Tiger Woods winced as he hit his opening drive on Thursday. On Friday, he sat in the grass and tied up his golf shoes like he was either four or 400 years old, but nowhere in between.

One thing is certain, the folks carrying around The End Is Near signs about Tiger will be out in full force after the 15-time major champ shot 78-70 at Royal Portrush. And it’s true that by the time you’re reading this, Woods will be home in Florida, back from his work trip at the 148th British Open two days earlier than planned.

“I just want to go home,” Woods said after his round on Friday.

But if you think the 43-year-old hobbled golf legend is anywhere near giving up on the game of golf, you didn’t see him thrash his club across the top of the heather in anger after missing his approach shot into the green at the 17th hole on Friday. He was four-over par at the time and likely still envisioning a birdie-birdie finish that somehow might sneak him into the weekend.

Reality was a bogey-bogey finish and a disappointing six-over par week. Since winning the Masters in April, Woods has only played four tournaments, three of them majors, twice missing the cut.

“It’s more frustrating than anything else because this is a major championship and I love playing in these events,” Woods said. “And unfortunately, I’ve only had a chance to win one of them and was able to do it. But the other three I didn’t do very well.”

Golf fans will next see Woods three weeks from now at the Northern Trust at Liberty National in New Jersey, the first event of the FedEx Cup playoffs. But the optimism surrounding Woods’ Masters win is long gone, with some suggesting that his victory in April will be his last — certainly his last major — that it took too much out of an athlete who just has too little left.

Watching and listening to Woods at Portrush, that’s not the impression he gives.

After travelling to Thailand with his mother for two weeks following the U.S. Open, and then preparing for this week, he’s tired. After trying to play golf in wet, windy conditions on wild terrain hanging on the edge of the Irish Sea, he’s sore. And there is no mistaking that his golf was bad. On a Royal Portrush golf course where you need to be able to work the ball both directions to combat the doglegs and the changing wind directions, he found himself only able to hit one shot, left-to-right and not very solid. That doesn’t work here.

But if you’re going to take away from this week that Woods won’t be able to go home, get some rest, and again put it all back together, then you haven’t been paying attention for 20 years.

But don’t take it from me.

“I’m going to have my hot weeks,” he said. “I’m going to be there in contention with a chance to win, and I will win tournaments. But there are times when I’m just not going to be there.”

After appearing to swing the club cautiously during Thursday’s one-birdie round of 78, Woods appeared to open up the engine a bit on Friday. He made five birdies over his first 11 holes, and looked to be swinging more comfortably. After the round, he said that, physically, he felt the same on Friday as he did on Thursday, but made a slight swing change.

“I just torqued my setup differently, just tried to make some minor changes swing-wise,” he said. “Because let’s be honest, I don’t have the flexibility I used to have, and never will. So I’m going to have to make those adaptations. If you look at what (Ben) Hogan did with his setup, it looked not square at all but he was able to flush it. So I have to make certain adaptations on certain things.”

Woods made it to World No. 1 with four different golf swings, each swing change taking nearly a year of competitiveness away from him. At 43 years old, he doesn’t have many years left to sacrifice, but he is still the man who proved his skill was very malleable.

The major question going forward will be whether his body is able to practice enough to get his game where it needs to be. In March at the Players Championship, Woods finished T30 and appeared to be driving the ball slightly better than earlier in the year. After he finished play on Sunday, a close member of his team was overheard saying that Tiger’s game “wasn’t close.”

A month later, he won the Masters. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019


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