Patchy putting underpins Tiger’s puzzling year
In many ways, Tiger Woods’ 2012 PGA Tour campaign is the most perplexing of his entire career.
While the former world number one has triumphed three times on the US circuit this season — more than anyone else — he has often faded over the weekend after being in prime position to push on for victory.
In his latest slide, Woods trailed by just three shots after two rounds at last week’s Barclays tournament in Farmingdale, New York, before struggling with his putter as he closed with scores of 72 and 76.
He was so frustrated by his final-round performance at Bethpage Black, where he won the 2002 US Open, that he left the course without speaking to any media outlet.
The Tiger Woods of old, especially when in his regal pomp of the late 1990s and early 2000s, was considered a supreme closer and arguably the best pressure putter of all time from inside 15 feet.
He relentlessly piled up 14 major titles and, in part because of his unprecedented aura of dominance, he frequently benefited in final rounds as his closest rivals wilted under the spotlight.
However the 2012 Tiger model is a surprisingly unpredictable one. Having ended a two-and-a-half-year title drought on the PGA Tour with a five-shot win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, it seemed the floodgates would once again open for the greatest player of his generation.
For the first time in at least half a decade, Woods was injury-free and he appeared to have successfully completed the latest rebuild of his swing — this time with coach Sean Foley.
As ever, the majors would prove to be the most accurate benchmark of his progress but, very surprisingly, Woods ended this season with the cupboard entirely bare in that department.
Though he recorded a tie for third at the British Open, he spectacularly faded at the US Open and the PGA Championship after reaching the weekend at both events in a tie for the lead.
Perhaps even more remarkably, he failed to break par in a weekend round at any of the four majors this year.
“I was there at the US Open after two days and I was right there with a chance at the British Open,” Woods said while preparing for the PGA Championship. “Things have progressed, but still, not winning a major championship doesn’t feel very good.”
In this month’s PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, Woods was tied for the 36-hole lead with Fiji’s former world number one Vijay Singh and Swede Carl Pettersson before losing momentum.
Woods felt he had ultimately paid the price for a relaxed strategy going into the third round where he bogeyed four of his first eight holes.
“I was right there ... but I came out with probably the wrong attitude,” the 36-year-old American said. “And I was too relaxed, and tried to enjoy it, and that’s not how I play. I play intense and full systems go. That cost me.”
The cold black-and-white of certain key statistics underlines the perplexing nature of Woods’ 2012 PGA Tour campaign.
On the plus side, he leads the money list with earnings of $4 989 158 and, perhaps most crucially of all, he tops the scoring averages with 69,02.
However, with the putter, he lies only 41st in strokes gained — his performance relative to the rest of the tournament field. With putts between five and 10 feet, he languishes 79th in the PGA Tour charts and, from between 10 and 15 feet, he lies a staggering 145th.
Going into this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship at Norton, Massachusetts, world number three Woods is well-positioned for a fourth victory of the season at a venue where he won in 2006.
This is the second of the PGA Tour’s four FedExCup playoff events and Woods occupies third spot in the standings as he prepares for Friday’s opening round.
He just needs to get that putter, once a lethal weapon for him, firmly back on his side.