Tiger Woods has been here before -- missing shots right, left, long, and short, and grinding, like your Sunday morning Nassau partner, just to break 80 -- and he may be there again.
Despite the shock and hand-wringing throughout the golf world over his prized pupil matching the second-highest score of his pro career and flaming out of the Farmers Insurance Open with a gaudy 79 in his third and final round on Saturday, Sean Foley urged everyone to take a collective deep breath.
"It’s just three days in a long year," Woods’ swing coach told FoxSports.com’s Robert Lusetich after Tiger’s brutal day at the office. "I like what I’m seeing in practice, so we’ll just continue working and see where it takes us."
Tell that to Nick Faldo, Brandel Chamblee, and the other doom-and-bloomers writing, yet again, the obituary for Tiger’s golf game.
For sure, Woods’ performance at Torrey Pines this week, where he was going for his ninth career win on a track he has conquered over the years, was about as ugly as it gets for the world No. 1. His opening even-par 72 wasn’t terrific and playing partner Jordan Spieth’s sizzling 63 on Friday on the far less challenging North Course made Tiger’s 71 seem even more pedestrian.
Saturday’s performance in sensational San Diego sunshine, however, was a whole ‘nother circumstance, though not unprecedented for Woods, who had three 79s on his résumé prior to his Farmers fail. He even sports an 81, though he tallied that number under wicked conditions at the 2002 British Open.
Just last June at the Memorial, Tiger turned in a 79, precipitating calls for search parties to locate his missing swing and, of course, for Woods to sack Foley. Back then, though, he played all four days, while Saturday’s stinker marked only the 10th missed cut in Tiger’s professional career and the first time he had an "MDF" (made cut, did not finish) next to his name.
"Tiger’s ... come out, he’s a little rusty," Golf Channel’s Faldo said to kick off coverage of Sunday’s final round in the tourney billed as "Eye of the Tiger," complete with theme song. "Alignment issues. Balance issues. Where his weight was in his feet, and just couldn’t hit the shot that he was trying to hit."
Certainly, Woods was all over the place on Saturday in terrain he said, pre-tourney, had a U.S. Open feel to it. That meant such mean and gnarly rough that Phil Mickelson withdrew rather than attempt to muscle shots out of the thick stuff and further injure his balky back.
Why it all went south for Woods on the South Course was something of a mystery -- especially since he declined to share his views with the media following his early exit.
He was still in the mix after an opening bogey on No. 10 and three birdies and another bogey in his next seven holes. A water ball on the par-5 18th, when he came up short with his approach after a rope of a drive, followed by a flyer over the green into a bunker, however, led to the first of two straight double-bogeys.
And that was it for the defending champ, who apathetically made his way into the clubhouse with an extraordinarily ordinary seven bogeys, two doubles, and four birdies that forced him to hole a 10-footer for par on the last to preserve a round in the 70s.
"This golf course is set up really tough," Faldo noted. "Once he kind of lost the plot, he’d had enough of it."
So what does this mean for the 79-time tour winner who will have to wait until his next, as yet undetermined, U.S. stop to chip away at Sam Snead’s all-time mark of 82 tour victories? Since he won five times in 2013, Woods has taken a lengthy break off following a playoff loss to Zach Johnson at last month's World Challenge, helped girlfriend Lindsey Vonn rehab her injured knee, hung out with his two kids, and turned 38, leading many observers to wonder if Tiger’s game clock had wound down.
There was much of that type of chatter last year at this time, after Woods kicked off his 2013 season with a missed cut -- and the first of four high-profile penalties -- in Abu Dhabi. He followed that up with a 'W' at Torrey and went on to cadge his record 11th Player of the Year award.
This time, it’s back to the the Emirates for the golfer who lifted the trophy in five of the 16 PGA Tour events he started last season. Yup, he pretty much stunk up the course on Saturday, and his failure to make a single birdie on the 12 par-5s he had formerly owned may, indeed, be cause for concern.
Or not. Perhaps a reunion with good buddy Rory McIlroy at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which he’s won twice, is just what Tiger needs to get back on track.
In the meantime, we’ll have to chalk up Tiger’s Torrey turn to a really bad week.
"I don't' know what was going through his head, but it was really different to see him play like that," third-round playing partner Jhonattan Vegas told reporters on Saturday. "You don't expect that out of him, but it happens to the best. He's human just like the rest of us."