Tiger Woods entered the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village as the odds-on favorite and left it with a big question mark hanging over his head.
Tiger’s tie for 65th place was his worst finish of the year and left the golfing world wondering what was in store for the No. 1 player as the PGA Tour gears up for the U.S. Open in two weeks.
Will there be a hangover from this highly unusual performance, or will he write it off and take charge again when he tees it up at the Open?
Tiger’s terrible tourney, which included a 44, his worst nine-hole score ever, seemed to come out of nowhere. This season is shaping up to be one of his best ever, and if he can throw in a major or two, he could actually make his run at surpassing Jack Nickaus’s 18 major wins a reality.
Over the course of the year, he has amassed $ 5,862,496 and four wins, which have placed him at the top of the FeEx Cup leaderboard. He is a cool $1.5 million ahead of Matt Kuchar on the money list and $2.5 million ahead of Brandt Snedeker.
Tiger has regained his role as golf’s best player, and it is his to lose. It really doesn’t seem to matter who is second, third or fourth now that his heir apparent Rory McIlroy is faltering, and his constant competitor Phil Mickelson is wavering.
But this weekend, it looked like he didn’t really care for the aerie on which he has been perched.
Was it a mental thing? Is something awry with his swing? And what was with his putting?
How can we assess the severe drop from a dominant win at the Player’s Championship two weeks ago to the demise at the Memorial, a tournament he had won four times in the past, including last year?
Tiger came into the Memorial having finished first in three of the last four events he had played, but he sounded like a weekend duffer when he told USA Today, "It happens. It happens to us all. And I'll go home next week and practice.”
In breaking down Tiger’s lost weekend, we see a few areas that definitely need some work.
Before the Memorial, Tiger ranked first in total putting on the tour. In fact, it may be his putting this year that has vaulted him back to the top of the world.
Yet he seemed lost on the greens. He had 29 putts in the fourth round Sunday after taking 30 in each of the first three for a total of 119. He just could not figure out the speed of the greens.
"I didn't putt very well," he told ESPN.com. "I had bad speed all week. I thought the greens didn't look that fast, but they were putting fast. I could never get the speed of them."
Putting will be one of the things he will want to practice heading into the treacherous greens at the U.S. Open in Merion.
Was it the wind or something in his swing that hindered Tiger’s game in the second and third rounds? He really had issues with distance control that never let him get any momentum.
He hit only 53 percent of greens in regulation for those 36 holes, a marked decline from the 75 percent hit in the first and fourth rounds.
Ultimately, though, it was the notorious third round that may give Tiger pause.
Some of that was due to shots like his drive on the No. 12, which he hit into the bunker. The placement of the ball did not allow a shot at the flag, and he ended up on the fringe then two-putted.
Later, at No. 15, he somehow hit his second shot in the trees, got onto the green in four but ended up three-putting for a double bogey. He also had bogeys on Nos. 6 and 9 due to poor approaches.
Tiger looks to have figured out his driver, but his approach shots let him down, a mechanical glitch that he will want to address going forward.
Couple that play with his poor putting, and you can see where he had trouble. His scorecards for the weekend included two triple bogeys and three doubles.
It is difficult to criticize the greatest competitor golf has ever seen as lacking mental toughness, but he never seemed to be able to get off track at Muirfield. He showed a side we had not seen of late, succumbing to the weather and the fast greens without even a whimper.
It is possible he was looking ahead, perhaps thinking he would simply stroll through the course he had mastered so many times before. Maybe he perceived it as a tuneup to the upcoming Open. Either way, he just didn’t seem to be up for the challenge of the course.
Tiger started off his first round in fairly mediocre fashion, posting a one-under 71, then he backed it up with an even worse 74 in Round 2. Obvious signs of struggle emerged as he doubled the 15th hole and scored only two birdies.
When the winds rose on Saturday, he wobbled through that awful 44. By the time Sunday rolled around, one would have hoped that Tiger was already working on his game, on the things he needed to practice. He ended with a 72 on the final day.
When did he lose his ferocity, or did he even have it to begin with? Surely, having barely made the cut as he entered Round 3, he wanted to make a good showing on the weekend? But we never got to see the tough side of Tiger who relishes the fight.
What It All Means
It is funny how someone who had been so sure on the greens and so confident in his play could suddenly have four consecutive bad rounds. To the general golf public, it may look like Tiger is in trouble.
When it comes down to it, Memorial will probably be just a hiccup in an otherwise stellar season for Tiger. He has been playing too well to let one tournament dampen his spirits or send his entire game into a morass.
Among other things, Tiger leads the tour in scoring average, which makes the Muirfield experience that much more of an anomaly. Although we didn’t see the bounce-back we normally expect from Tiger when he flounders, his present winning record should provide him with confidence moving forward.
Tiger may be the best in the business at sucking it up and making the next tournament count. This kind of conflict makes Tiger tick. It gets his competitive juices flowing.
Plus, he wants to redeem himself after his debacle at the Masters. There is just too much on the line for him as he seeks his next major victory for the Memorial to make a negative impact.
When all is said and done, the Memorial will be just a bump in the road.
Take it from one who knows. "It just happened," said Jack Nicklaus to USA Today when asked about effects of such a round on a season. "This won't much matter for him."