Deciding on the pinnacle of Tiger Woods' storied career is a fun debate — is it his breakthrough win at the 1997 Masters, the utter dominance he displayed at the 2000 U.S. Open, or the painful triumph at Torrey Pines during the 2008 U.S. Open.
Tiger Woods made 22 bogeys and three double-bogeys over 72 holes in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational (FILE: Mark Susson).
After what the Cypress native did at this week’s World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational on the PGA Tour, there can be no argument as to what his low point has been on the golf course.
Tiger's personal life has been turned upside down, and a topsy-turvy 2010 continued Sunday. He hit rock bottom with the worst finish of his career on a course he’s won more titles on than any other.
“It’s been a long year,” Woods said with dismay after a final-round 77 at Firestone Country Club. He shot 74-72-75-77-298 to place 78th in an 80-player field where only 79 finished.
Before this week, his previous lowest standing at an event where he made the cut was a tie for 67th at the 1997 Memorial. He has missed six cuts as a professional.
Scores and tournament standings don’t always completely reflect the state of a player’s game, but in this instance, the numbers tell the whole story. Woods generated absolutely no momentum all week, making 22 bogeys and three double-bogeys over 72 holes. This was the highest stroke total of his career. His highest final round ever.
At times he appeared disinterested, most notably in Saturday’s third round when he left a difficult pitch shot short of the eighth green and proceeded to hit the next shot without any semblance of a pre-shot routine, as if he was merely practicing in the short-game area.
I would have never expected to see Tiger do that. The man who’s almost universally regarded as one of golf’s all-time greats has long competed by the mantra that he won’t play unless he’s 100 percent confident in his ability to win.
It’s hard to believe the 14-time major champion felt that way before teeing off in the first round Thursday.
Hunter Mahan, an Orange native who grew up close to Tiger’s hometown of Cypress, won the tournament with a closing 64 and a 12-under-par total.
Thirty shots better than Woods.
“I never, ever thought that would be possible,” Mahan said. “It never crossed my mind. It's definitely different.”
Since Woods turned professional in 1996, he’s been an unquestioned favorite to win every time he tees it up. That’s no longer the case. Mental fortitude and ballstriking precision have been replaced by a lack of confidence and remarkable inconsistency on the course — especially from the tee, as he ranked last in the field in driving accuracy.
Woods said he hasn’t struggled this much since a period in the late 1990s when he was revamping his swing with then-coach Butch Harmon. But Tiger still won during those supposedly lean times.
The current dry spell — no wins in 2010 with the only remote highlights being top-five finishes at the Masters and U.S. Open — has now been validated as the worst of his career after what happened Sunday.
“I need to hit the ball better, I need to chip better, I need to putt better, and I need to score better,” he said.
Considering all of the mystery and rumors currently surrounding Tiger’s life off of the course, the next-to-last-place effort is the most honest illustration of how far he's has fallen on the course.
But golf can be redemptive, and the man with 97 worldwide victories has a chance to rediscover his game in a few days at one of his four crown jewels every year, the PGA Championship. The season’s final major begins Thursday at Whistling Straits near Milwaukee, Wis.
A solid finish there could net a spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Anthony Kim, who played with Woods Sunday and struggled to a tie for 76th in his first tournament back from wrist surgery, thinks he will turn the corner soon and merit a trip to Celtic Manor Resort in Wales.
Woods said he doesn’t deserve a spot on the team but did not rule out the idea of playing on the team.
“I think I can turn it around,” he said.
He certainly has his work cut out for himself.
Eli Miller is the managing editor of Southland Golf. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.