What a difference a week makes.
Last week in the second round of the Bridgestone Invitational, Tiger Woods blistered the field with a 61, tying the lowest round of his vaunted career and making a clear statement of his intent to win a 15th major title at the PGA Championship.
This week at Oak Hill he instead looks like just one of the guys, posting an inferior round of 70 and finding himself 10 back of the leader.
The week has turned out to be a capsulized version of the last year of his career; Tiger has followed greatness with mediocrity and done so on the biggest of stages.
What is absolutely amazing is that he has done so while others have turned the rain-soaked Oak Hill course into their own personal highlight film.
While Jason Dufner and Webb Simpson went record hunting, Tiger was hunting pars. Simpson shot a course-record 64, then was followed by Dufner, the leader at the end of the day, who tied the record for the lowest round in a major with his 63.
While the rest of the field was firing at the pin, Tiger was looking for some place to hide. And, as his competitors lodged more than birdies in one day than possibly worth counting, Tiger struggled to offset four bogeys with four birdies.
With five wins under his belt this season, he has still been unable to perform at the highest level in a major. While he will make the cut at Oak Hill, his chances of winning a 15th major this weekend look bleak.
Tiger’s 61 at Firestone was everything we expected from the No. 1 player in the world. His play was reminiscent of his early days of domination as he shot his lowest round since 2005. So dominating was the round that it took the wind out of the world-class field and he coasted to the win.
Just one week ago today, Woods flirted with a 59 en route to a 15-under 265 to easily beat defending champ Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson by seven strokes.
He came into Oak Hill with the highest of expectations, as it should be following such a win. He looked to defy his personal history.
Even though he has won both the the Bridgestone and the PGA Championship in the same year three times in his career (2000, '06, '07). the odds of winning at Oak Hill were still slim.
In the 19 times in which he has won his last start before a major, he's only followed up with a win four times: 2000 U.S. Open (after winning The Memorial), 2001 Masters (Players), 2006 PGA (Buick) and 2007 PGA (Bridgestone).
And with both Tiger and Phil Mickelson, ranked second in the world, playing at their best, there was hope for a historic matchup on Sunday. Phil, by the way, hasn't had the best of rounds either and sits at two-over par.
Tiger plodded through the first nine holes with a bogey and two birdies, a mediocre 34 that left him way back of the pack. He needed to do something special on the back nine if he was to survive.
Yet typical of his day was a missed birdie putt at the par-five 13th hole that he left on the lip. He cringed, he grumbled and he moved on, settling for par.
On the 330-yard 14th he finally whipped out his driver as if to say enough of and pummeled his tee shot onto the green. He ushered his 40-foot putt within a few feet of the cup. A birdie would be a move in the right direction. Instead, he pushed it past the cup. Another par.
The golfing world gasped and Tiger trudged off to the next hole. He might as well have just left the course. He finished the day going birdie, bogey, birdie, bogey. Ugh!
This was the big difference between this week and last. At Firestone, no hole was safe from his hot putter. He averaged 27.5 putts for the week and had an amazing 22 on that magical Friday.
So here lies Tiger on the biggest stage again, looking to end a five-year drought without a major title, having what many thought was the best chance in that time to finally push forward in his quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors.
Instead, he has been a cut below the elite, a shell of his former self. A regular guy in a field of pros who actually seem to relish the pressure.
Magic. That is what Tiger will need if he is going to win at Oak Hill.
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