Tiger Woods’ 2019 season is already and will always be an unqualified, legendary success. That was the case as soon as he tapped in on 18 to win the Masters in April. With that context out of the way, right now he looks and plays like a guy who should pack it in for the season. This would be fine and perfectly acceptable! He’s done enough and accomplished something this year that, had you watched him for most of the preceding five years, felt like a fantasy. He was never going to play again, nevermind win the Masters.
But right now? Woods looks a lot more like the broken-down and uncompetitive iteration from 2014 or 2015. He looks like someone who achieved that fantasy comeback Masters win and then, deservedly so, exhaled and put his feet up to celebrate all summer. The rest of the year, and if we’re being honest, maybe his career, is gravy. He’s said as much, continually referring to the “gift” it was just to be able to stand up without pain and walk again, let alone play golf.
But then he won the Masters and we all started talking about chasing Jack Nicklaus’ record again and sort of forgot the context of the prior five years in our hysteria.
Woods’ opening round at The Open was a slog, and from the very first strike, when he appeared to grimace after his opening drive.
Tiger Woods is off the first tee at Royal Portrush. Little grimace after his drive. Not good. pic.twitter.com/Fm2aotBFO7— Kyle Boone (@Kyle__Boone) July 18, 2019
The day would be full of pained looks and exasperated sighs. The play was a wave of dicey short game shots, poor putting strokes, and inconsistent tee balls. The start at Portrush presents multiple birdie chances but Woods scrambled to make pars through his first four holes and then the tightrope snapped and he played the final five holes of the front nine in 5-over. None of it looked very fun and it was clear Woods was not going to be competitive in the final major of the men’s season.
It would take more than four hours before he poured in his first birdie of the day, coming on his 15th hole of the round.
The final tally was a 7-over 78 that had him in a tie for 140th place. That’s the injury-plagued province on a major leaderboard he occupied before last year’s comeback. It’s his highest first round score ever at The Open.
This round came after Woods took a month off and got away following a quiet U.S. Open exit and missed cut at the PGA Championship. He said he needs to play less in order to play longer, and that all makes sense. But Thursday, he did not look like he just had a month off but more like the worn-down delirious guy from last year’s Ryder Cup, who was playing for the 7th time in nine weeks.
After the round, he cited “Father Time” and told Golf Channel’s Steve Sands that he was “not moving the way I’d like” and “can’t hit all the shots I want to hit.” But he did emphatically say “yes” to the question of if he’d play on Friday. The fact that it was a question should give you some indication of how he looked.
Woods’ 78 is excusable. Nothing is a failure after what happened in April. But given what he tells us it takes to get ready just to play one round of golf, what’s the point of playing the rest of the year? The PGA Tour and its deep pocketed sponsors of the remaining WGC and FedExCup won’t like to hear it. But shut it down, captain the Presidents Cup team, and prepare for the majors next year — specifically the ones that are played in temperatures above 70 degrees and more benign on your decrepit, creaky body. This Northern Irish setting was not that.
Woods was not the only player on the struggle-bus on Thursday, as the Open beat up some of the best in the world in both dispiriting and amusing ways. Here were a few more:
The pot bunker tumble
South African Justin Harding has had himself a career year, but this was a moment where he’d probably prefer to burrow a hole and hide in this Portrush pot bunker. This was a double scoop of embarrassment with both the failure of the shot slamming into the bunker face and then the tumble down into the sand.
We need a recount
David Duval’s round at Portrush started well enough with red numbers on his first two holes. Perhaps the former world No. 1 and 2001 Open winner had found something for one week. Then the round unraveled, quickly, and the bogeys we expected from the part-time player came in buckets. Then the round just got blown out to sea completely with a 14 on the par-5 7th hole.
The explanation sounded like something from the C flight at a club championship or local qualifying match. Duval apparently lost his first two tee shots, then played the wrong ball from his third. What was believed to be a 13 was actually a 14 after a slow and deliberate post-round recounting of how it all went wrong.
This description of David Duval's 14 (changed from a 13 after his round) is wild. Hope the extra shot doesn't cost him making the cut! pic.twitter.com/aF9pVVxT5c— Alex Myers (@AlexMyers3) July 18, 2019
The 13-turned-14 were the entree in a 20-over 91 that, as you’d expect, has the former great in DFL. After the round, Duval delivered this inspirational poster quote to the AP’s Doug Ferguson.
This is solid from Duval: "You have an obligation as a professional athlete. If you play, you post your score. Am I happy about that? Is there some ... embarrassment to it? I don't know. But I teed off in the Open and I shot 90 today. So put it on the board."— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) July 18, 2019
The only issue is Duval withdrew from the last two Opens after high opening round scores, as Golf.com’s Josh Berhow noted. That does not mean he doesn’t have the right to go out there and post whatever number he wants as a former British Open champion.
The first hole fiasco
Woods’ 78 was bad, but at least it was not 79. That was Rory McIlroy’s final tally after an opening quadruple bogey and a closing triple bogey. McIlroy carded every score in between in what was a disaster of a day for the home crowd and betting favorite. We went into greater detail on his round and his diminished confidence here, but while you’re wallowing in Woods’ relative uncompetitiveness, you can remind yourself that the player near the very top of the game and in his peak at the moment did one worse.
Just act cool
Dustin Johnson is one of the most naturally smooth and cool golfers on the planet. Legendary golf writer Jim Moriarity once described him as having “the oily gait of a jungle cat.” We use the qualifier “naturally” smooth. The problem is when you tell him to play it or act it. Then? Well, as we’ve seen over and over, it’s nothing but forced awkwardness and confusion and unintentional comedy. This was maybe my favorite non-golf clip of the entire opening round.