Just when it looked like Tiger Woods would simply roll into the U.S. Open, devastate his fellow pro golfers and finally win that 15th major, up jumped the devil in the form of the worst front-nine performance in his career.
Tiger, it seems, is human after all. His startling 44 on the front nine at Muirfield in the third round was so out of current character that it calls his invincibility into question.
Let's face it, after his last dominant win at the Players, coupled with three previous wins in seven starts this season, Tiger had regained not only his number one status on the tour but the applause of critics and fans alike.
Prior to the Memorial, Tiger dominated the field in many statistical categories. He was number one in scoring average and all-around ranking, led the tour in money earned and was number one in FedEx points.
Tiger's first two rounds of 71 and 74 may have been a harbinger for the front-nine debacle. He barely made the cut and was already 10 shots behind leader Bill Haas.
With gusty winds pounding the course, Woods placed some of the blame on the weather. "It's not that hard to make bogeys and doubles on this golf course. You miss it in the wrong spot, get the wrong gust, it's tough. We had a few shots in our group that ended up in special interesting spots," he told Yahoo Sports.
Most people would probably write off those scores as an anomaly, especially on the course where Tiger has won five times in the past. Maybe he was a bit tired. Maybe he is looking forward. Maybe he took the course lightly since he has had so much success there.
But, the ill wind continued to blow for Tiger whose 44 included two double bogeys, a triple and no birdies.
Perhaps the worst affront to his game was a double on a reachable 515-yard 15th where he ended up doubling. That hole included a yank left, a tough chip, a lip-out and a three-putt.
From a purely statistical standpoint, Tiger hit only 50% of greens in regulation during the round, and his driving accuracy was below 75%.
Some days are just like that in golf. Woods did come back on the next nine with a 35, but his 79 knocked him into a tie for 69th place. He sits at plus-eight for the tournament, while Matt Kuchar is in the lead at minus-eight.
All of this is not to say that Tiger won't get it all together as he makes his way onto the first tee at the upcoming U.S. Open in two weeks. This may just be a glitch, a sudden dip in an otherwise stellar season.
It also makes for some much loved drama. Should Tiger not regain his stride in tomorrow's round, the naysayers will most definitely come out again. The questions will arise and the doubts will emerge.
And Tiger, as if according to some pre-conceived script, will be able to once again shut them down with a big win at Merion and another step towards passing Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major wins.
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