There were too many holes to plug in the dam for Tiger Woods this week, and he did not have enough fingers to plug them. Woods finished 68th (out of the 68 that made the cut) at the 2020 Genesis Invitational on Sunday, an event he spent the week hosting.
After a promising 69 in Round 1, Big Cat closed 73-76-77 to shoot 11-over 295. It was as odd of a week as I can remember in the last decade of Tiger’s career.
The primary reason it was so puzzling is because Tiger came in playing well. He won in the fall, finished top 10 at the Farmers Insurance Open a few weeks ago, and his swing has been looking great. Much was made coming in about his lack of success at Riviera Country Club, but he shot three rounds at par or better this time last year and finished T15. It’s not as if he’s never played well at this course.
The most egregious day Woods had this week was Saturday when he lost five (!) strokes to the field with his putter. But the other days weren’t exactly smooth sailing. Woods was bad with his driver on Thursday, missed six greens from inside 150 yards on Friday and reverted to some poor iron play on Sunday. It was one thing after another.
If you’re an optimist, he seemed to mostly self-correct what was troubling him the day before, and nothing ailed him all four days. If you’re a pessimist? Well, there was a lot he had to correct. Also if you’re a pessimist, this was one of the worst finishes of his career.
Woods said after Round 3 that he was stiff, and that’s understandable. It apparently takes a lengthy runway to get Woods properly situated for a round of golf these days, and his duties as tournament host no doubt took away from that. But Woods is always busy off the course. He always has a ton of responsibility. Even he noted that on Saturday.
“There’s a lot this week, but that’s one of the things I know going into any event I’ve hosted,” he said. “There’s a lot. And unfortunately, I’ve hit a lot of shots, so that kind of adds to it, adds to the frustration, I’m sure.”
Some of this is borderline inexplicable. If the best lag putter of all-time is hitting putts that aren’t even in the same zip code as the hole, what’s going on?
Part of the answer is that — as Woods gets older and his body gets less (not more) agile — there are just going to be weeks like this. Weeks where he’s not feeling it. Weeks where his neck or his back or myriad other body parts connected to the swing or the putting stroke are not properly functioning.
It’s not really cause for concern, at least in the short-term future with Augusta National and the Masters just two months away. Remember, he missed the cut last year at the PGA Championship, and his very next start was a top 10 at the Memorial Tournament. In the longer term? Weeks like this are a reminder that his body won’t stand up to a long season like it used to when he was younger and healthier.
The biggest issue for him is how to manage these weeks so they don’t arise during the four tournaments of the year he cares about most. Tiger will skip next week’s WGC-Mexico Championship — even though he’s ranked No. 8 in the world — because he wants to give his body a break and pace things out over the course of a long year.
“What did I play, 12 times last year? And so, that’s kind of my number for the year,” Woods said this week. “… Just because of the physical toll and I want to stay out here for just a little bit longer.”
We will likely see Woods next at the Arnold Palmer Invitational from March 5-8, where he is an eight-time champion. After that, it’s on to The Players Championship the following week, where he’s won twice.
And despite an off week at Riviera Country Club that was as disappointing as it was quizzical, nothing about his performance suggests that his poor play at this tournament is anything other than a bump in the road for 2020 as he keeps one eye on the Masters and the other on the path leading to it.