Maybe Tiger Woods had an inkling how his day was going to go when he got up and dressed in all black for the first round of the U.S. Open. Because he sure looked like a man attending his own funeral.
Woods’ round of 80 left him tied for 152nd in a 156-man tournament. So yes, he pretty much has bottomed out in this major and, barring an intervention from the golfing angels, won’t be around Saturday.
But it’s more legitimate than ever to wonder whether more of the same is all we’re ever going to see from Tiger.
Thursday’s round at Chambers Bay marked the third time this year Woods walked off a golf course with a dreaded “snowman” as the key number on his scorecard. And keep in mind this 80 came on a par-70 course.
According to Fox, Woods had played 1,107 professional rounds before this year and ended up in the 80s only once. And that was at the 2002 British Open, when the July weather looked more like January, and horizontal rain and gale-force gusts were to blame.
This time, there was no one to blame but himself.
There was a near-comical moment on the par-five eighth hole, when Woods was knee-deep in rough on a hillside. After striking the ball, he lost control of his club, which went flying far back and away, as if it were trying to escape being used anymore during this historically awful round.
The worst of his performance came during a horrific four-hole stretch that started on No. 11. Woods went bogey-bogey-bogey and then triple-bogeyed the 14th when he took three consecutive whacks from bunkers before gagging on a four-foot gimme putt.
That dropped Tiger to 10-over, right on pace to shoot 80. And the look on his face showed he knew the snowman was looking over his shoulder.
Woods battled back on No. 16 when he sank his only birdie putt of the day. But the quest to break 80 derailed on the 18th, in a setting that demonstrated exactly where Tiger is at the age of 39.
Tiger’s group was on hold, waiting for the threesome ahead to clear the green. In that group was 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, the reigning Masters champion and America’s best hope for more victories in majors. Woods and Spieth were separated by only a couple hundred yards, but their games might as well be galaxies apart these days.
When Spieth completed his contending round of 68, Woods stepped up to take his second shot and promptly gave an imitation of a rank amateur. Swinging a 3-wood, Tiger dribbled a two-hopper straight into a deep, hellacious bunker that’s named the “Chambers Basement.”
|82||2015||Phoenix Open||2nd round|
|81||2002||British Open||3rd round|
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Woods had worn frustrated and morbid looks all day long. And if his body language could have spoken at that moment, the censor undoubtedly would have bleeped it.
The Fox broadcast crew was almost too dumbfounded to speak.
All Greg Norman could muster was, “I don’t know what to say.”
Sadly, a rumble of laughter could be heard from the gallery. Yes, Tiger Woods was now performing slapstick on the golf course.
Think about this: 15-year-old Cole Hammer not only beat Tiger Woods today, he's probably too young to remember him winning a major. #USOpen— Alan Robinson (@alanrobinson412) June 19, 2015
But give him credit. The one thing Woods did right Thursday was laugh off the fourth-worst round of his professional career. He was all smiles and handshakes coming off the 18th. And if misery loves company, at least Woods found some from threesome partner Rickie Fowler, who was even worse, shooting an 81.
Tiger played on that at his press conference, joking to reporters that, “The bright side is at least I kicked Rickie’s butt today.”
But while laughter might be the best medicine for days like this, one couldn’t help but wonder if tears weren’t far away.
In other sports, the saving grace for fading stars is that they usually don’t wind up on center stage at the Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Finals. But Tiger likely will keep chasing major championships for as long as his exemptions hold out, no matter how uncomfortable it becomes to watch.
And it’s getting very hard to do so.
Speaking for many golf fans, Fox commentator and former British Open champion Tom Weiskopf told viewers on the broadcast, "I hate to watch this, to tell you the truth. When you’re at the top of Everest and now you’re in a coal mine, it’s hard to take."
Once upon a time, the ever-present question about Tiger was whether he would be able to win four more majors and tie Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18. Now the more apt question is whether he can make four cuts the rest of the year.
As Weiskopf reminded, Woods has always said that he’ll only play if he believes he has a chance to win. Clearly, that chance doesn’t exist at the moment. Not after Tiger shot a career-worst round of 85 this month at the Memorial, and certainly not after Thursday.
Tom Weir covered several majors as a columnist for USA Today.