It is a demanding job, monitoring every joint and major muscle group of that human “Operation” game, Tiger Woods. And getting harder.
Last week, something new popped up, leading Woods to withdraw from the first stage of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Northern Trust. It was a strained oblique, he said, something known to haunt a baseball clubhouse but seldom the mahogany sanctuary of a country club.
A baseball player hurts his oblique, he’s gone for weeks. Woods doesn’t have that kind of time.
If he’s going to make it back to Atlanta, where his Tour Championship victory last year shook all of East Lake like it was an over-sized snow globe, Woods is going to need every bit of his oblique, right now. Maybe even both of them, whatever they are.
It was a heartened Woods who came off Medinah on Wednesday afternoon, after playing half of a pro-am, while puttering around the other half. He had taken his first full swings in six days, and lived to tell about it.
“Oh, way better,” he said when asked how he felt compared with a week ago.
“It was nice to take those days off,” he said. “I had to just let it calm down and get a bunch of treatment on it. It feels so much better.”
The top 30 in FedEx Cup points advance from this week’s BMW Championship to the season-ending Tour Championship next week at East Lake. Woods currently resides outside that bubble, at No. 38. There is work to do to earn his way back to the scene of his first victory after a long, hard five years dealing with breakdowns, both physical and personal.
The PGA Tour ran some numbers and came up with this for a bottom line for Woods: He needs to finish solo 11th or better this week to give himself a clear path back to Atlanta. Lower than that, it gets really complicated.
It is not such a big ask of a 15-time major winner to finish in the top 10 of a 70-player field. But this is not exactly the same Woods who won the Masters in April. He has played sparingly since then, only 13 rounds on Tour in the intervening four months. He has looked out of sorts from the British Open onward. Those who monitor such things say his club-head speed has backed up to more mortal measurements.
We’re all day to day. Woods, in his current state, is minute to minute.
Like, really, an oblique? “As I’ve said before, the forces have got to go somewhere, and unfortunately when I make any kind of tweaks and changes to my swing, it’s like a new body part is aching,” he said Wednesday.
As usual, Woods was on dawn patrol Wednesday, snagging the first pro-am round time of the morning. All parts of the game were functioning well at the early hour – off the tee, approaches, putting. At no time was a medical-evacuation helicopter summoned.
“Reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated,” one of Woods’ close friends chirped to a gaggle of media, walking off the eighth green, after Woods made his fourth birdie of the round.
“Played the front nine and played well, which was nice to see, nice to feel,” Woods said.
When he made the turn, the pace of play slowed appreciably, and Woods opted to just chip and putt the rest of the way rather than to take any full swings. Not a sign that any body part was starting to betray him, he said. Just a precaution against what was going to be, he said, “a death march for the next two-and-a-half to three hours” on the back nine.
“It definitely doesn’t feel like it did on Friday, that’s for sure,” he said, happily.
Medinah, like a lot of golf courses, houses some fond memories for Woods. He won two of his four PGA Championships here, in 1999 and 2006. He’d like to hold together long enough this week to fashion one more.
“I’m trying to win this tournament just like anybody else in this field,” Woods said, “and trying to get to East Lake, trying to get to a place where a lot of things changed for me last year. Hopefully, I can make that happen.”
He is scheduled to tee off at 12:45 ET Thursday, paired with C.T. Pan and Billy Horschel.
And may there never be another oblique reference directed toward Tiger Woods. He works so much better with strong, definitive statements.
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