CRAWFORD | Woods leaves Louisville with compliments, and questions about future
Tiger Woods time at Valhalla for the PGA Championship ended just about where it started -- in a parking spot. After his second 3-over par 74 left him missing the cut, he said he needs to get stronger.
Friday, August 8th 2014, 8:29 PM EDT
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Tiger Woods' time at Valhalla ended just about the way it began. In his parking spot.
After an 3-over par 74, his second straight, left him well on the wrong side of the cut line for the PGA Championship, just the fifth time he has issued a cut in a major, Woods spoke softly.
He'd had plenty of time to absorb the disappointment. Through 18 soggy holes on a Valhalla course that was ripe for him to destroy, in front of large galleries ready to explode at any hint of magic, his body failed to rise to the moment.
As he answered questions afterward, his mind seemed finally, maybe, to be catching catch up to the reality his body was broadcasting to him.
He's not ready. He's not strong enough. He wasn't ready to come back from back surgery. Wasn't ready for the long trip to the British Open. Wasn't ready to rush to Valhalla to play in the PGA after a new back injury sidelined him in Akron.
"I tried as hard as I could," Woods said. "That's about all I've got."
It was all he has physically, certainly. The question is what he has left mentally. The question is whether this is just a physical issue, or a golf issue.
Woods did more than spray tee shots around the course. He struggled on the putting green. Time after time he hit tee shots, dropped his head, and moved forward.
Some of that is his back, maybe most of it. He acknowledged after his round that he is not strong enough to play, but that he wanted to come back when he was pain free.
He imagined, probably, what most of the golf world imagined, that after a quick acclimation period he would resume his breathtaking march of majors.
This much is clear now after watching him limp home in Louisville. That march is going to be a slow one. There is going to be no short cut. I can't count how many times I've heard a pundit say that if Woods can just put a couple of good rounds together he'll be back on a "roll." Maybe Woods heard that enough that he believed it.
It's not going to happen. If Woods comes back to full force -- and it's reasonable now to use the word "if," because I don't think we can assume he will -- it's going to be part of a long process, not a short sprint.
"I need to get stronger," Woods said. "As I said the other day. I need to get my gluts strong again, my abs and my core. They're just not quite there yet. By playing, you can't burn the candle at both ends. So I need to get stronger physically and be back to where I was."
One might argue that Woods greatest success, actually, came when he was burning the candle at both ends, in his personal and athletic life. But age catches up with us all.
Now it has caught a Tiger in a tailspin.
He said his back went out on the driving range, and that he never was in this round. He finished ahead of only 34 players, five of whom withdrew. Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup coach he was trying to impress, played three strokes better than he did.
"It's very frustrating because the golf course was gettable," Woods said. "It was as soft as it could be today. I was shocked we didn't get any mud balls out there. You could play so aggressively to any of these flags, even 3 and 4-irons for stopping. The golf course was gettable. Phil (Mickelson, in the same group) went out there and did what he needed to do."
Woods could not. He's not the Tiger Woods in the video game anymore. He can't power up and accelerate past anyone. His body delivered that message this week at Valhalla.
"It was telling me on the range it probably wasn't a good idea," Woods said. "But I'm not exactly a non-stubborn person."
Woods, perhaps, learned a lesson this week. Maybe everyone else will too. It's time to get over Tiger Woods. It's time to remember fondly what he was, and hope he can recover and move forward in some reconstituted, re-shaped way.
But he hasn't broken 70 on the weekend of a major since 2011. He's not there. Golf will go on without him. Rory McIlroy is at the top of the PGA Championship leaderboard. Phil Mickelson has played his way into contention. Rickie Fowler has pulled into his usual stalking position of the lead. Steve Stricker and Lee Westwood are there.
Golf is better when Tiger Woods is around. You have to appreciate a guy giving it a try. That's what golf is about. Those who said Woods took up space of someone else fail to acknowledge that Woods has earned the right to be wherever he wants to be in this sport. Everyone acknowledges that, even the ones who resent the attention he gets.
But it's time to take a step back and acknowledge Woods for what he is. A guy who used to be a great player, but who is not one anymore. Maybe that'll change someday. But for his fans, it's time to hope for it rather than expect it.
Tiger probably won a few fans in Louisville with his effort. Clearly frustrated, he said few things before heading out that people here will remember.
"The fans were fantastic. They were cheering us on and so supportive," he said. "It's a shame I didn't get to play here in '08 with the Ryder Cup here. I couldn't imagine the atmosphere. If it was in 2000 like it was this year, it must have been incredible here in '08. These people are sports fanatics. This is a great sporting town. They showed up in droves and today wasn't exactly the best weather day. They supported all of us."
Then he headed to his parking spot, loaded up his clubs, put his Mercedes courtesy SUV in reverse and was gone, as quickly as he came.
The event was better for him having been around. The sport can only hope he comes back, in a real sense, one day. But no longer can it count on that.
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