On Wednesday, Tiger Woods claimed he was pain-free when he announced that he would still be playing in this week’s PGA Championship. While he may have been telling the truth about his troubled back, the same certainly couldn’t be said about his mental state, as he struggled through what could best be described as a miserable opening round.
Playing with Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington, it was obvious from the start that something just wasn’t right with Woods – although, really, that’s been the story of his entire comeback from back surgery. Woods made just one birdie on the day at Valhalla, a chip-in from just off the green on the par-4 14th that seemed to energize both himself and the crowd, but the excitement was short-lived.
A three-over-par round of 74 leaves Woods tied for 109th place, nine strokes behind the leaders. He’s now in need of a minor miracle just to make the cut. He’ll likely need to be under par at a minimum, and with rain expected to move into the area and softening the course, perhaps several strokes under. Since his return from injury, Woods has broken par just twice in ten rounds, so you’ll understand if we’re not holding our breath.
In his post-round media sessions, Woods still offered plenty of his usual platitudes, reminding us all that “it is what it is” and that he could be “right in the ball game” if he found a way to get under par. He also took a step away from his usually confident air by acknowledging just how badly he had performed, saying that he felt he was dialed in on the range, but couldn’t translate that on the course.
That’s the type of thing you or I might say after a casual round with friends, but it’s still surprising to hear it from one of the best players ever, even if everybody knows how bad he is right now. Woods says all he needs is “more reps”, but honestly a missed cut at Valhalla might be a blessing in disguise, giving him time to truly heal before coming back next year.
Regardless of the score, we know that Woods will likely go until either his score or his back (or some combination of both) won’t allow him to anymore. Friday might be the last time we see Woods play for a while, and how he guts it out will be telling.