FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) — He didn’t need to hear any more. “Do you beat yourself up over this one,” the question began, “or …” “Yes,” Tiger Woods said abruptly.
This once, at least, the best player in the world wasn’t interested in alibis, never mind that a very tidy one was available. Woods got stuck in the bad half of the draw, weather-wise, from the start of play
Thursday and beat every other player in the super-soaked flight at this U.S. Open. That was only good enough to tie for sixth place.
The sun was trying to peek through the clouds on a breezy, overcast morning at Bethpage Black, but Woods wasn’t interested in that, either. For five days, he had seen little besides rain and gray skies. Now he was seeing nothing but red.
“I striped it this week,” he said after finishing at even-par 280. “I hit it just like I did at Memorial.”
That was two weeks ago in Ohio, where Woods found every fairway in the final round and came from four strokes back on the last day to win.
“Unfortunately,” he said, back in the moment, “I didn’t make anything.
“I hit so many putts that – my good ones are not going in, and then my bad ones aren’t even close. It’s a little bit slow and bumpy, but you have to be committed to hitting it that hard, and I left a lot of putts short. And then, when I tried to hit it harder, I gunned it past the hole.”
He tugged the bill of his black cap lower.
“I didn’t make the adjustment the right way,” he said.
Nearly every time Woods loses, he pins the blame on the shortest club in his bag. This time, there was no second-guessing him. He made only 14 birdies all week, and left two more very makable ones sitting on the final two greens. In hindsight, the 3-footer Woods missed for bogey at No. 15 in the opening round became a template for the rest of his tournament.
Most weeks, Woods is among the boldest putters out there, because he’s supremely confident in his ability to make the short ones coming back. But here he seemed positively spooked. Steady rains forced USGA officials to leave the lawn mowers in the shed, and the greens, which were just shaggy at the start of play, soon became pockmarked and bare in some spots, inexplicably fast or slow in others.
Everybody had to negotiate the same surface, of course. But they drove a world-class control freak like Woods to distraction. He craves consistency above almost everything else, and Mother Nature simply refused to go along. If you want to know why Woods rarely shows up anymore for the PGA Tour’s swing through the West Coast in late winter, when rain plays havoc with the poa annua putting surfaces, that’s the short answer.
He didn’t expect to find them at Bethpage, despite having endured at least one day of rain-soaked greens en route to his U.S. Open title here in 2002.
“This is a great golf course,” Woods said. “It’s just that the USGA just got the short end of the stick on the weather. We have yet to play it hard and fast the two years we’ve played. It was kind of getting that way in 2002 in the beginning of the week until it rained on Friday.
“This golf course,” he added, almost wistfully, “would play so different.”
If Woods was looking for consolation, there was plenty. Returning from knee surgery that sidelined him nearly eight months, he has finished in the top 10 or better in every stroke-play event he’s entered since. Woods also became the first Open champion since Curtis Strange two decades ago to finish in the top 10 defending his title.
Then again, top 10s never meant that much to Tiger. For the first time in five years, he doesn’t have the trophy from a major title in the glass cabinet back home, which should be motivation enough to start beating up on the other players when they gather next month at Turnberry for the British Open.
Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.