There aren’t a ton of positive takeaways from finishing outside the top 50 in any tournament for Tiger Woods, but here’s one: Tiger’s 66 on Sunday in the final round of The Northern Trust was his lowest round of the year. He’ll survive the first week of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but because of a mediocre first three rounds, the two-time FedEx Cup champ has a lot of work to do next week at the BMW Championship to try and make it to East Lake two weeks from now.
Woods’ 66 on Sunday could have been even better. He flushed it on the front nine and went out in 5-under 31 (with a bogey!) before nine straight pars to end his event. His ball-striking was aspirational, though. Second in driving on Sunday, first in approach shots. His putting for the entire week — just as it has been for most of the last month — was not very good. But when you’re hitting 10 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens, the putting can be not very good and you’re still going to post a low score.
“I felt like I hit the ball better,” said Woods. “I putted better. Everything was just cleaner and better today. It was good. Just wish I would have kept the round going a little bit more. I had a couple nice little eagle looks on the front nine. It could have been … well, it could have been one of those really low rounds, but I’ll take 5 under.”
The optimistic part for Woods is that the back and body have been seemingly pain-free over his last two events at the PGA Championship and this week at The Northern Trust. With two more events in front of him and the U.S. Open in just under four weeks, that’s maybe even better news than the way he hit the ball on Sunday morning as he played with Rory McIlroy for the second straight day.
“My body feels pretty good,” he said. “You know, this is going to be a long haul either way. I wish I would have played a little bit better this week to make it a little bit easier on me next week to try to get into East Lake, but this is going to be — if I played well — four out of five weeks, so it’s going to be a busy stretch either way.”
Over a four-day stretch, the narrative is mostly what it has been since we first saw him post-PGA Tour restart at the Memorial Tournament — really good ball-striking, really bad short game. Some of his short game numbers were not helped at all with spots he put himself in on approach shots over the first two or three days, but the driver was magnificent at a place in TPC Boston where it’s fairly easy to get into some trouble off the tee.
Woods, who came into this week ranked No. 49 in the FedEx Cup standings, is slated to drop 10 spots going into next week’s BMW Championship. Only the top 30 will advance after next week, so there is a ton of work for him to do (he’ll likely need a top-five finish) if he wants to make any kind of run at FedEx Cup crown No. 3 of his career.
The encouraging part is that we have evidence that the work can be done. Don’t be surprised at all if Woods goes to Olympia Fields next week, rolls a few putts in early and contends at the second event of these playoffs. It may seem fairly far off based on where he’s finishing on leaderboards right now, but the game is sharper than his scores would indicate. That may not pop next week at Olympia Fields, but then again — given how well he struck the ball on Sunday in Boston — it might.