Tiger Woods Masters: Analyzing His Plummet at Augusta National
It simply doesn’t compute.
Tiger Woods' resurgence in the golf world over the last six months had foreshadowed a terrific, competitive performance at the Masters. Five top-10 finishes in his last eight events were glimpses into the Tiger of old, which was only fortified by a dominating victory at Bay Hill two weeks ago that captured his first official PGA Tour victory in 30 months.
Now, after "moving day,"—Saturday, at the Masters—Woods isn't contending. He's fighting to survive.
Rounds of 72, 75 and 72 leave him currently three over for the Masters and eight shots back of co-leaders Jason Dufner and Fred Couples. It's not so much about identifying a single flaw in Woods' game to account for his mediocre performance as much as it is a confluence of a variety of problems.
Just like a pitcher needs to throw a first-pitch strike, so too a golfer needs to hit the fairway off the tee; otherwise he will fall behind in the count. Prior to the Masters, Woods was leading the Tour in Total Driving—the combination of accuracy and distance off the tee—but he has been consistently inconsistent with his drives at Augusta National. He's hit 25 of 42 fairways, meaning he finds the fairway just under 60 percent of the time.
You can't win a major if you don’t give yourself legitimate opportunities off the tee.
You may have never heard of Dufner—although he contended for the PGA Championship in 2011—but he's currently leading the Masters because he's hit 24 of 29 fairways (82 percent). A product of finding the fairway is simpler shots into greens, whereas Woods is literally having to chip out of the woods or find a way to hit a magical recovery shot that simply isn't realistic.
Major championships are not about being perfect. They're about minimizing mistakes, adjusting to the conditions and staying in contention. Over his last three days, Woods is 0-for-3.
His second and third rounds started on an uplifting note with two early birdies. However, problems off the tee, paired with not hitting greens in regulation as a result, led to multiple bogeys in his round.
As someone who's been watching Woods compete throughout his illustrious (and bizarre) 14-year career, nothing about his game appears natural anymore. He's not swinging intuitively or trusting himself; rather, he's become completely reliant on the technical elements of his game.
Woods appears robotic and rigid out on the golf course, choosing to focus on how his mechanics can repair his game rather than his instincts.
In addition to that, what about his child-like attitude? Every player on the course this week has hit a poor shot—guaranteed. However, none have thrown their clubs, yelled profanities or shrugged their shoulders like Woods has done on an all-too-consistent basis.
His fourth and final round will have to be as much a mechanical adjustment as a psychological one.
What makes Woods' pedestrian performance all the more peculiar is where it's taking place—Augusta National. This is the course where he not only won his first major championship in 1997, but it's also the course that has become his sanctuary. He knows it like the back of his hand, yet he can't manage to score.
His third-round score of even-par 72 has him tied for 40th. We saw Woods put together a stunning Sunday 62 at the Honda Classic, which brought him back into contention and ultimately a tied-for-second finish.
But the field is deeper and more competitive than ever before. When Woods' name begins to climb the leaderboard on Sunday, it won't carry the same intimidating presence it once did, as we saw last year in his front-nine surge at the Masters.
It is now a seemingly impossible feat for Woods to win his fifth Masters. He needs to remember that golf doesn't simply build character—it reveals it.
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