Tiger Woods was more a feeble feline than a roaring success at last weekend’s PGA Championship.
The 14-time major winner’s hunt to add another major to his tally has left him hungry for at least another year.
The former world No. 1 missed the cut by 10 strokes after shooting a three-over round of 73 on the second day of the PGA Championship. Never before in his 14 attempts to win the Championship has he failed to miss the cut.
Indeed, it is just the seventh time in 260 starts and the third time in a major that he has failed to advance past a 36-hole cut in his entire career.
Reflecting on his weekend, Woods said to UK Eurosport:
I think I was in, what, 20 bunkers in two days? And had four or five water balls, so that's not going to add up to a very good score.
I hit the ball a lot better. I putted well the last two days and really felt great but I just never got to the green soon enough.
To the New York Daily News, he added:
I think it's a step back in the sense that I didn't make the cut and I'm not contending in the tournament, but, it's a giant leap forward in the fact that I played two straight weeks, healthy. That's great for our practice sessions coming up. We are going to now be able to work and get after it, something I haven't been able to do. And I thought I could come in here and play the last couple of weeks and it get it done somehow, but I need some work.
What Tiger will do for the remainder of 2011 remains unclear. He has stated that he needs to play in order to rediscover his form, but he has already missed out on the chance to participate in September’s playoff series.
What’s more, precious few events are planned for the autumn; he is not scheduled to play until November’s Australian Open.
Taking two months out from now to work on his game could see him put on a better show down under.
It certainly seems that the best things Tiger can do now are recuperate and work with his coach, Sean Foley, to improve his all-around game ahead of 2012.
Tiger’s form has been inconsistent throughout this season.
At the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks ago, Woods shot an impressive first-round 68; however, rounds of 77 and 73 at last weekend’s PGA Championship symbolize an unwelcome step backwards.
It is more than just inconsistency that has been a stumbling block to Tiger’s game.
In the past 18 months, the 14-time major winner has been plagued by a continuous string of injuries; a four month absence due to a problem with his knee and an Achilles problem have limited the amount of time he can spend on the golf course.
He may feel that the best way to find his form is through participating in competitions, but the added pressure has clearly taken its toll on his body and potentially his morale.
One particular area that Woods needs to work on is his driving, which has not been the same since he started tampering with his swing several years ago. One of his biggest assets during his winning years was his formidable drive, without which he is already fighting a battle before he steps up to the tee.
His accuracy has also suffered since his return; his bunker-to-water shot at the 11th hole in the PGA Championship is stern proof of that.
Another mistake followed on the 12th hole as two of Woods’ shots veered alarmingly off target and to the left, leaving him in the trees twice.
He recorded double-bogeys on both holes.
These are mistakes that athletes make when their minds are elsewhere. Perhaps a lengthy break away from the game—and away his troublesome family life—is what Tiger needs to find peace of mind.
At present Woods seems to be fighting against himself as much as he is fighting against the world’s toughest golf courses.
Indeed, it does seem that Woods is resigned to taking an additional two months away from the game.
"Now I'll have nothing to do but work on my game," he said to UK Eurosport. "That's going to be good. Sean and I haven't had the opportunity to really sit down and do a lot of work, so this will be our time."
Golf has arguably become a much more competitive game since Tiger’s last triumph in 2008, and in Rory McIroy, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald and Martin Kaymer, he faces stiff competition to lift a major honour come competition across the pond.
Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, and Nick Watney meanwhile are flying the flag stateside, while Tiger slips to a meagre 33rd in the world rankings.
This is yet another challenge that Tiger will have to rise to, but he is no stranger to pressure and being a target of intense critique and scrutiny.
With so much holding Woods back, it remains to be seen if he truly has the will power to return to the summit of golf.
There is a reason why golf is a four letter word: It is a fickle game that backfires on you the harder you try.
That ping between iron and ball should be effortless; if it is not, you are doing something wrong. For as long as Woods’s mind is littered with negative thoughts, he is likely to descend further rather than fight back.
He has already won everything, and although he has not beat Nicklaus’s record of 18 major titles, he can certainly rest on his laurels and be regarded as one of the sport’s greatest ever competitors.
All signs seem to suggest that the future for Woods is ominously bleak, and for any other athlete it would be. But it would be foolish to count him out yet.
After all, he is still Tiger Woods.
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