At the Memorial Tournament in July, with his back feeling fluid, Woods shot a one-under-par 71 in the first round. The next day, he winced and limped to a four-over-par 76 when sudden back stiffness made a full swing impossible. Afterward, an unruffled Woods did not seem surprised — or perturbed.
“So you never know exactly what you’re going to have each day?” I asked him.
He smiled and replied: “It’s going to happen more times than not.”
Woods has played six times this year (not counting the charity exhibition match with Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning) and his best finish was a tie for ninth in late January. In the six months since that result, the best he has done is tie for 37th, with four finishes outside the top 50.
At tournaments, Woods’s disposition, which could run the gamut in his prime, is now almost always measured and cooperative. On Tuesday, he did not break form when asked to summarize his season so far. He sounded like a golfer of any stripe after a spate of poor play: He missed putts, made some swing mistakes and put the ball in the wrong spots.
“I’ve compounded mistakes,” he said.
As one of the few golfers in the vast field who participated in the last U.S. Open held at Winged Foot, in 2006, Woods was asked what advice he could give his colleagues as they try to tackle a golf course renowned for its fearsome challenge. There wasn’t too much he could say since he missed the cut that year, the first time he had done so at a major championship.
But there was another piece to his 2006 U.S. Open story.
About a month after he tied for third at the 2006 Masters and failed to win the tournament for the fourth time, his father, Earl Woods, died. Woods did not play again until that year’s next major, at Winged Foot in June.
“Yeah, when I didn’t win the Masters that year, that was really tough to take because that was the last event my dad was ever going to watch me play,” Woods said Tuesday.