Historically, the pet name for the PGA Championship is “Glory's Last Shot.” The major championship taking place this week at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisc. proposes a slightly different twist.
This is Tiger's Last Shot.
Last shot to salvage something meaningful from the depths of a troubled season. Last shot to show he's willing and worthy to be a member of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. Last shot to secure his spot in the top 125 that qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs. Last shot to demonstrate he is still some facsimile of the world's best player. Last shot, that is, if Tiger Woods has any shots remaining in his bag.
He certainly had none last week at the Bridgestone Invitational, no game to even suggest he could be competitive in a major championship. On a golf course where he had won seven times, where he had never finished worse than fourth, he finished tied for 78th.
If not for Henrik Stenson playing two shots worse, the Sultan of Swoosh would have finished DFL — i.e. demoralized, frustrated, lost.
“I don't see how it can be fun shooting 18-over par,” said Woods, whose score of 298 was the worst he has ever posted in a PGA Tour event.
Frankly, it's difficult to see how it will get much better this week on Pete Dye's “links on steroids” golf course that exposes weaknesses like a black light exposes lint. Even when he was shooting a pedestrian 75 at Pebble Beach in the final round of the U.S. Open — tying for fourth in a championship that was there for the taking — Woods could see “positives.”
“I feel like I can play now,” Woods said then. “I've got a feel for my game, the shape of my shots, what I'm working on … I feel like I put some pieces together this week.”
After he tied for 46th at the AT&T, and then tied for 23rd in the British Open at St. Andrews — where had dominated two previous times — Woods assured us there were “positives.”
“The last few weeks, I've been a lot better, but I just need to get where my pace is good and start seeing some putts go in,” he said on his way out of Scotland.
There were no positives, in Akron, Ohio, in quote marks or otherwise. There was 74-72-75-77, four rounds above par for the first time on a Woods scorecard since the 2003 PGA. There were no pieces put together, no pleasant pacing, no shots shaping, no putts going in.
The only positive might be that Woods did not cut himself shaving, choosing instead to grow a goatee. You know what they say, if can't find a fairway, grow one.
Here were are in mid-August, heading into the last major of the season, and Woods has yet to top the $1 million mark in earnings. He is 85th on the money list, behind someone named D. A. Points. Woods is 163rd on the PGA Tour in fairways hit, 166th in Greens in Regulation and 129th in putts per round. He is missing fairways, missing greens, missing putts, missing in action.
Woods isn't just human right now, he's a human who doesn't play especially dynamic golf. Jack Nicklaus' 18 professional major championships, a bar that seemed so reachable just a few months ago, no longer seems like a lay-up. Woods will need to find himself before he finds five more majors. Curiously enough, the slide didn't begin in his driveway last November, it began on the back nine of the 2009 PGA Championship.
Since he was overtaken by Y.E. Yang that Sunday at Hazeltine, he lost a major, a wife, a family, a swing coach, a few sponsors, any semblance of a private life and a good deal of dignity.
A year later, for the first time in this decade, it is hard to consider him a favorite coming into a major. Officially, the sports betting books have Phil Mickelson as a 10-to-1 favorites, Woods is next at 12-to-1.
But given the state of his game, if not the state of his mind, he's a sucker's bet. Consider that the last time the PGA was played at Whistling Straits (2004) Woods didn't have nearly as much drama surrounding him, and he was not a factor. He opened that championship with a 75, survived the cut with 69 on Friday, stayed within nine shots of eventual winner Vijay Singh with a Saturday 69, but stumbled in with a Sunday 73. He finished at two-under and tied for 24th.
Woods's scoring average in 2004 was 69.04, a stroke and a-half better than it will be (70.58) as he returns this week. Woods is 119th in the FedEx Cup rankings and ninth in the Ryder Cup standings.
Who would have thought Corey Pavin would be in a position where he would need to spend one of his captain's picks on Woods? Who would have thought Pavin (81st) would be higher than Woods on the PGA Tour money list when team-building time came around? Even Woods appreciates the absurdity.
When asked is he thought he should be added to the U.S. Ryder Cup team, Woods answered, “Not playing like this, definitely not,” he said. “I wouldn't help the team if I'm playing like this.”
One might argue Woods is not helping himself playing like this. Winning might be the springboard that turns things around for Woods, but losing, and looking ordinary doing it, can't be good for an already battered psyche. There has been enough embarrassment off the golf course, no reason to rub bunker sand in the wound.
Things change in a hurry in golf, sometimes dramatically so. Phil Mickelson tied for 35th the week before the Masters, then captured another green jacket. Graeme McDowell missed the cut at Augusta, then won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. It can happen one month to the next, one day to the next, one round to the next.
But as things stand three days before a ball goes in the freshwater air at Whistling Straits, Woods would do well to pull the plug. He has no business being in the field on a Ryder Cup team, or any other team, and he shouldn't be put Pavin in the difficult position of making that call.
Who wants to be known at the Ryder Cup captain who left Tiger Woods off the team? If Pavin does, and the U.S. wins he will be a genius. But if they lose, he will never hear the end of it. That's a lot of pressure to on Pavin and the U.S. team.
Bottom line is Woods shouldn't be working right now, no matter how large the divorce settlement is. He needs to get his head straight, needs to work on his game, needs to re-invent his brand. All of that will take time.
This week's PGA Championship is Tiger's Last Shot to prove otherwise.