Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy — two of the 25 best golfers of all time — played alongside each other in the third round of The Northern Trust on Saturday and shot a combined 5 over just one day after there were two incredible rounds (59, 60) shot at TPC Boston.
Following that 59 from Scottie Scheffler and 60 from 36-hole leader Dustin Johnson in the first 2020 FedEx Cup Playoffs event, some thought we might see something equally special on Moving Day from a pair that has a combined 100 PGA Tour wins.
Alas, we got almost exactly the opposite.
It started early as McIlroy tripled the second hole; he then tripled the sixth. He hit a ball backwards into the water (yes, you’re reading that correctly) and needed a machete in lieu of his sand wedge for much of the front nine at hairy TPC Boston. He was last in strokes gained around the green in Round 3, shot 74 and is now even par for the week. It was even uglier than it reads.
Woods’ struggles were more subtle but no less problematic. He made five bogeys, and although he didn’t have the big numbers like McIlroy, he was unable to offset those bogeys with anything low. He shot 2-over 73 and fell to 1 under on the week, 14 back of Johnson before the leader’s afternoon tee time hit.
As has been the case for most of the second part of his 2020, Tiger’s issues were mostly around and on the greens, and specifically with his putter. He lost nearly over three strokes to the field with his Scotty Cameron and will likely end up finishing last in that category on the day. The irons haven’t been particularly sharp this week either — unusual for Woods, perhaps the best iron player of all time — and he’s putting himself in spots that are difficult to escape.
Take the par-4 14th hole for example. From the middle of the fairway, Woods flew his approach over the back of the green and to the left-hand side, 48 feet from the hole. It was nestled next to some cables and just ahead of some Rory-sized heather, and Tiger chunked the chip. It may have been a bad lie or a bad swing, but the point is that even small misses (48 feet isn’t that bad) can make your short game look worse than it actually is depending on exactly where those misses are.
We may get another Woods-McIlroy pairing on Sunday, even earlier than their 8:30 a.m. ET tee time on Saturday. Again, not what was expected on Moving Day but possibly a reality for two consecutive days.
There is an intriguing pessimism to some of these rounds. With no fans in attendance, little motivation for either and a long road of playoffs ahead, the golf can become grueling, and it often did on Saturday as Tiger and Rory grinded through the combined 147 strokes (just 28 back of Scheffler and D.J.’s combined 119 on Friday).
At the end of their round together, McIlroy offered Woods a semi-ironic hat tip, as if to say, “I know how good we are, and I know how badly we played.”
This year has been upside down in pretty much every way. One major championship, no golf for three months and no fans at the biggest events. Sunday was just one more example of 2020’s reach. That the two most-accomplished players left in the field would go out and limp home to rounds over par on a course where the average score this week is in the 60s was just one more example of that.