Golf is a frustrating game, as anyone who has picked up a club and ventured out to a local course can attest. It can turn even the most mild-mannered of people into seething balls of rage, frustrated by what seems like such a simple game. How hard could it be? It's not like the little white ball is moving while a player swings.
But walk out onto your local course on a Saturday afternoon and you'll hear the same things, almost without fail. The unmistakable swoosh of a driver, the ping of a club contacting the ball, and the loud cursing that follows shortly thereafter. Sometimes it follows the hilarious sound of a ball striking a tree. Others, the yelling is preceded by the splash of a ball in landing in a water hazard. Miss a putt? Drop an f-bomb.
The game seems so simple, but looks can be deceiving. I've seen a friend snap a putter over his leg after missing a four-footer. I've seen clubs go flying into the water -- both in person and on the television during high-stakes PGA Tour events. I've thrown a club or two in my time, fed up with the direction of my round. Cursing, yelling and displaying anger on a golf course are nothing new. They are almost to be expected, hand-in-hand with some of the more civil traditions of the sport.
On Friday afternoon at Augusta National, Tiger Woods was no different than those golfers standing in a tee box at a local municipal, cursing at a ball that won't quite do what they want it to. He screamed at himself -- yelling "Aw Tiger. Goddamit" at one point -- and let his anger get the best of him. During a four-hole stretch on the back nine, Woods let it fly, releasing the pent up frustration that had built to a boiling point during a round that slid off the rails early.
There was the tee shot on No. 13, where Tiger screamed and cursed at himself after hooking the ball once again. Two holes later, Woods stood in the fairway of another par-5 with an iron in his hand. It was an iron he pushed way right, into the gallery, leading to another outburst as he stormed towards the green. And he promptly pitched his next shot straight into the bunker a few yards away, missing yet another par-5 green in regulation.
The moment that will be replayed throughout the tournament, though, came on No. 16, after the damage had already been done. A simple nine iron wasn't so simple, and just after making contact, Woods dropped his club behind him, winding up and booting it back towards his bag. By then, there was no saving the round or making up ground on the leaderboard. Woods was simply trying to hang on.
The emotion from Tiger was the same as we've always seen, even when he was dominating the competition. But because he's struggling, his outbursts are frowned upon, used as a talking point when discussing why he can't seem to hit a decent golf shot. In truth, curse words and pouting after bad shots have been as much a part of Tiger's game as club twirls and red on Sunday, even when he was dominating the sport.
Woods' anger will get the attention, but his issues run much deeper than his emotions. After all the time he's spent reworking his golf swing and retooling his mechanics, he's still suffering from the same problems he's been trying to avoid. He spent much of the day pulling the ball left and still couldn't hit a fairway or green to save his life -- the result of a swing that remains all out of whack.
The problem is in his head -- as it's always been -- but it's not the vocal outbursts and temper tantrums. Those moments of frustration don't help, sure, but the battle he's fighting is a constant wave of swing thoughts that continue to keep him from just playing the game. It's taking a range attitude to a golf course, but the course happens to be Augusta National and the event is The Masters.
After struggling through a first round, lucky to finish at even-par, Woods went back to the range, hitting countless balls as he tried to work out the kinds on the fly. As he began his round on Friday, the work seemed to pay off -- a couple of birdies got him back into the red numbers and all seemed to be well. And then it all went south again.
Over the next eight holes -- from No. 4 to No. 11 -- Woods lost four strokes. That 2-under he quickly raced out to with birdies on the first and third holes was gone and Woods was closer to the cut line than the lead. He added another bogey for good measure, finishing his round at 3-over for the day and the same for the tournament.
Woods' frustrations didn't stem from dropping shots or putting his ball in places that would certainly lead to bogey. The outbursts and yelling certainly stemmed from a poor day overall, but on the back nine, where low scores are almost expected, Woods was watching everything get away from him. Those par fives he's dominated so often? He couldn't even find the green in regulation, let alone in two shots. His chance to make any kind of late-round run went straight out the window, his hopes dashed by uncertainty in his swing.
As Augusta National cleared out and darkness fell over the course, Woods headed back to the range, tweaking his swing and sorting out what went wrong again, just as he did on Thursday. But it won't matter one bit if he spends the next 24 hours tinkering, thinking about his swing mechanics while simultaneously trying to make-up eight shots on the leaderboard.
He can hit all the balls on the range he wants and dissect his swing, piecing it back together from scratch, as many times as he desires before he steps to the first tee on Saturday. And it won't matter if he can't get out of his own way, forgetting about the little details while just playing the game -- displaying the creativity and effortless execution that made him so dominant just a few years ago.
He's not out of contention -- not by a long shot. With just eight strokes between himself and the leaders, Woods can, conceivably, make up the ground over the final two rounds -- after all, he flew up the leaderboard on Sunday at The Masters last year, nearly making up a similar deficit in a shorter period of time. But he won't do it by thinking about whether his club-face is open or close, or whether his arms are in the right spot as he begins his downswing.