I knew the first time Tiger Woods brought his bats to Riviera in a dozen years would be eventful. I just didn’t think it’d be THAT eventful. Because The Cat gave us a little bit of everything in his opening round, 1-over, 72. Some good, some bad, and some downright hideous. And while I asked El Gato to gimme an A or gimme an F before the tournament, I’ll be straight: I didn’t think he’d be able to give me both an A and an F.
Because carding 5 birdies at The Riv is an A. Hitting just 7 greens is an F. And losing your rock in a tree the first time you pull out a big stick is just down right disgusting.
BUT… Because I’m a positive guy let’s start with some good. Contrary to popular belief, I’m not rooting for this guy to be terrible, so let’s start with the positives.
This dude’s short game is pretty much electric. The Cat rolled it like the good old days, when he was sliding into green jackets and stacking major championship trophies on his mantel. He took just 25 putts to get around 18 holes. He was basically automatic from inside 10 feet, the way he used to be when he was crushing it on the money list and with the waitress pool at every Diner, Drive-in, and Dive on Tour. He played some wizardly wedges, got it up and down from some crazy spots, and at least gave himself a chance to make the weekend.
Remember, this is a guy that had the straight-up shanks, yips not long ago. Even worse for his career than his wrecked back. But somehow he has beaten back the shakes.
So that was the A’s. Now let’s get to the F’s. This dude’s driver continues to be an instrument of terror. And that’s actually an improvement from the last time he teed it up at Torrey. Tiger told anybody who’d listen that the changes he was making these last two weeks were paying off. That new, stiffer shaft would eliminate the two-way miss. The extra degree of loft would help with his spin rate. And then he went out and on his first swing with the big stick plugged one in a Eucalyptus tree and made double. Literally. The ball never came down — and that wasn’t even his worst tee shot of the day. We’re getting to the point that every time he pulls out the bazooka they should sound an alarm, just for the gallery’s safety. Point blank, you can’t win a tournament if you can’t play it from the fairway and while he managed to hit a couple on the way in, he still looks like a weekend hack with driver in his hands.
So while I guess I have to give the guy credit for forcing himself to keep taking these reps in a tournament setting, he’d be so much better if he just went to the first tee — pulled out the big dog — and then snapped it over his knee. On the 9 holes he had driver in his hand, he was 4 over par. Now, I’m a radio host and not a mathematician, but here’s a stat maybe the Cat should consider: On the 6 fairways he missed, he was six over. On the 8 fairways he hit, he was 5 under. I’m not asking The Cat to use the quadratic formula or quantum physics, but maybe just draw his own conclusions before unsheathing that weapon this afternoon.
So Tiger Honks, if you want to see the good, I’m not stopping you. On a course that owns him, on a day where he couldn’t find a fairway or green, he’s still in the tournament. On a day where El Gato pegged it up with the reigning player of the year, Justin Thomas, and 4-time major champ and heir to the swoosh Rory Mcilroy, the Cat held his own. He didn’t embarrass himself. He didn’t injure himself, either, his latest back surgeon earning every penny after Tiger took some swings that would’ve left him lying in the kikuyu before that spinal fusion.
But the goal is to win. And right now Tiger’s T-63 and has work to do to get to the weekend.
But credit the Cat for one thing: It wasn’t boring. Tiger’s played a lot of golf on the PGA Tour. 1,184 rounds to be exact. And yesterday was the only time where he hit 7 fairways or less and still managed to card 5 birdies. So I asked for an A or an F, and the Cat gave me both. As good as his short game is, his long game is that bad. And as long as that’s the case, he’ll be grinding to make cuts, not winning tourneys.
Here’s the bottom line. He looks to me like a dude who’s killing it in practice. Like a guy whose health is coming back and still has skills. Not big cat, I’ll rip your heart out, game, but top 25 in the world skills. And that’s a pretty big deal for this guy at this point in time. But he looks like a dude that when he gets back on the course, falls right back into his old habits. And can’t find his driver. That dude will never win anything, much less anything that matters hitting it off the tee like that. And needless today, he still has to too much noise between his ears.
This is the problem when you’ve already climbed the most treacherous mountain in the world. Once you’ve been there, it doesn’t really mean anything. But trying to do it again, can get you badly hurt. Or even killed. He has distance. His short game looks much improved and the yips are gone. Based on what I’ve ever seen in 2018, the guy can be competitive. But the big cat is dead and gone. That guy isn’t coming back. Right now, he’s a dude who’s getting it done at home and still trying to move it to the track. And to the question, can he be in the mix at the majors? Probably Augusta. But he’ll never get to the top of the mountain again. But even getting to the base of it to try is a big improvement for the cat.