OK, maybe now it’s time to worry a little bit.
Tiger Woods has always been known as a golfer who thrives at his favorite courses. There’s Augusta National, of course, and Bay Hill for Arnold Palmer‘s tournament. But there’s never been a course or a tournament so well-suited to Tiger’s game and mindset than the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.
That’s what makes this week’s events all the more surprising. With seven wins at this season-opening event alone, plus one more at the 2008 U.S. Open, it should have been at least a competitive week for the world No. 1. It was excusable to me that he played the first round relatively quietly. He’s not always a great starter, and the South Course was ridiculously challenging. That even-par 72 was nothing to worry about.
79 just doesn’t happen for Tiger Woods. He’s shot 79 or worse precisely twice before this week; once at the Memorial Tournament last season, and a brutal 81 in ridiculous wind at the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield. In an 18-year career, that’s saying something.
As you’d expect in this situation, Woods chose not to talk to media after the round, so it’s difficult to say if he’s dealing with some kind of nagging injury or if it was just an off week.
His swing coach, Sean Foley, was quick to remind people that it was just the third round of Tiger’s PGA Tour season after a long layoff, but that’s to be expected from one of the few people in the superstar’s closest circle. Woods won last year after just as much time off, so that just won’t cut it.
Playing partner Jhonattan Vegas said it best. ”I don’t know what was going through his head, but it was really different to see him play like that,” Vegas told USA TODAY. “You don’t expect to see that out of him. But it happens to the best. He’s human just like the rest of us.”
That’s the hard part of being the best in the world. Tiger Woods transcends the sport, and he’s not supposed to be just “human”. How he comes back from this will be telling. He may not make another start on Tour until next month’s Accenture Match Play Championship, another tournament he’s won three times. If he’s going to take the next step in chasing Jack Nicklaus‘s major record at the Masters, a slow start like this won’t do anything good for his mental state.