If Tiger Woods plays a round of golf by himself and nobody is there to see it, does he hit a fairway?
As if Woods didn’t already feel alone after shooting a career-worst 85 on Saturday at The Memorial Tournament, he literally played by himself in his final round.
He said, per Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:
This is a lonely sport. The manager is not going to come in and bring the righty or bring in the lefty; you've just got to play through it. And that's one of the hardest things about the game of golf and it's also one of the best things about the game of golf. When you're on, no one is going to slow you down. And when you're off, no one is going to pick you up.
Least of all a golf public that is either indifferent to his return to form or impatient with how long it’s taking for him to resurrect the Woods who was in final pairings, winning tournaments and contending for majors. Woods is a cocooned caterpillar right now.
That apprehension likely comes from a sense of Woods’ biological clock. He’s 39 years old, and his body has been carved, mended and stitched more than Victor Frankenstein’s wretch.
Woods is still four majors behind Jack Nicklaus. Woods can probably contend until he’s 45. That’s 22 more to win four or five. By that time, Rory McIlroy will only be 30 and still in the thick of his prime.
In the meantime, Woods is still working on that swing—"pattern," as he says.
"I'm staying committed to what we're working on," Woods said, per Bob Harig of ESPN.com. "And I've gone through phases like this, rounds like this before in the past where, yeah, it's easy to revert back and go ahead and hit some old pattern, but it doesn't do you any good going forward."
And though some grow weary of following Woods, he undoubtedly matters and always will. Harig wrote, "The fact that at age 39 he continues to pursue those goals, amid myriad injuries, swing changes, personal challenges, a new breed of talented young golfers and all kinds of doubt makes him just as compelling as when he dominated."
That further adds to this mood of urgency that everyone else feels that he seemingly tunes out. Did he play this poorly through his other swing changes? He never shot an 85 in a round during any of his previous swing amendments. He still made cuts with the same degree of predictability. He definitely never did this:
Watching him flub, flop and hack his way to a quadruple bogey on No. 18 on Saturday was sort of tragic. It was like watching Bane categorically dismantle Bat Man.
"Got to suck it up,” Woods said in Bob Harig’s piece. “If you believe in it, do it. And eventually it will start turning, and when it turns, I've had periods where I've played good for four or five years, where I've won close to 20 tournaments in that stretch."
You get the sense when listening to him that he’s feeding on all this skepticism. He’s seeing into the future, and what he sees is special. None of us can see the forest for the trees. All we see is sand and water.
"Tiger's running from teacher to teacher," Nicklaus said on the CBS broadcast (h/t ESPN.com). "He needs to go back and review some of his own things rather than listen to someone else."
If Woods looks in the rearview mirror of his Memorial performance, he’s going to see a driving accuracy of 44.64 percent and a greens-in-regulation percentage of 48.61, per PGATour.com.
The Golden Bear said in DiMeglio’s article that he feels bad for Woods, citing Woods' health problems, the fact that Woods performed so well at Augusta only to gag at The Memorial where he's won five times prior.
At this point, it becomes a matter of repetition and staying healthy, and that swing, the "P" word, is designed as a salve for his increasingly fragile frame.
Woods mentioned that when the swing is flush it's easier on his body. Imagine a Woods who isn't limping or grabbing at his back. All those millions of swings have a way of eroding at one's body.
While playing by himself in his final round, he saw the silver lining of it all. He piped some drives, shaped some irons and still went after it like he had the afternoon tee time and not the early-morning tee times.
In the 2014 football season, Aaron Rodgers told Green Bay fans to "R-E-L-A-X" on his ESPN Milwaukee radio show. Woods hasn’t outright said it, but he’s telling us to relax too. He’s biding his time hoping these patterns imprint before time runs out.