Portrush, Northern Ireland (CNN)Questions, questions.
If Tiger Woods’ brief visit to Royal Portrush told us anything, it is that the Masters champion is going to have to rely on “hot weeks” for any future success.
And not just in the weather department to limber up his surgically fused back.
While Woods’ dysfunctional first round and lament for his ailing body Thursday at the Open left more questions than answers, his improved second-round effort at least cleared some of the mist, though he missed the cut.
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For some, Thursday’s admission that his back is still a significant hindrance was proof that the win at Augusta was actually the beginning of the end, rather than the beginning of a glorious new era.
His rounds of 78 and 70 to end six over and miss the cut by five — and trail halfway leaders Shane Lowry and JB Holmes by 14 — brought a disappointing end to his major season.
The final tally looks like this: won the Masters, missed the cut in the PGA Championship, tied 21st in the US Open, missed the cut in the Open.
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‘I will win tournaments’
By any other measure, a major-winning season is a success, but where Woods is concerned we’ve often had to recalibrate the scale and this one promised more.
After the magnitude of that 15th major title, for a fifth green jacket and first major in 11 years, it seemed the post-surgery twilight Tiger phase would herald yet more glittering moments. And yet it might.
But consider this: he missed two cuts in his first 55 majors as a pro. He’s now missed two of his last three. That neatly illustrates the new reality, missed in the post-Masters glow.
Woods is not a machine rebuilt as good as new. He is a patched-up, ailing, intermittently brilliant, fallible, horses-for-courses, 43-year-old man whose best years are well behind him. There will be good days — Sunday at Augusta was one, Sunday at the Tour Championship last year another — and bad days — think Thursday at Portrush.
“That’s one of the hardest things to accept, that as an older athlete you’re not going to be as consistent as you were at 23,” a tired, resigned Woods told the pack of reporters waiting to talk behind the 18th green at Royal Portrush.
“Things are different. I’m going to have my hot weeks, I’m going to be there in contention with the chance to win and I will win tournaments, but there are times when I’m just not going to be there and that wasn’t the case 20-something odd years ago when I had a different body and I was able to be a bit more consistent.”
In a way, it’s a taste of what his rivals have had to put up with on a consistent basis: nagging, unerring inconsistency. Hot one minute, not the next. Think the mercurial Phil Mickelson, or Rory McIlroy.
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Woods’ first-round woes were highlighted by fighting shots going left, a sloppy short game which cost a handful of strokes, notably at five and six, and a couple of hapless hacks from the semi rough on seven.
Afterwards he talked of how his “sore” back prevents him hitting certain shots.
The sight of him sitting on his backside to tie his shoelaces Friday morning was an ominous sign for day two.
So too, the filming of his swing from various angles and lengthy discussion afterwards with swing advisor Matt Killen and close confidante Rob McNamara. Clearly something needed looking at.
But Friday’s effort was much improved. Having made some tweaks to his swing set-up, he was able to lean on a big drive on the fifth and lashed another monster way past Patrick Reed’s ball on the seventh. He had his chances to inch back towards the cut mark, but he played the six par fives over two days in two over par, which put him on the back foot compared with the field.
The left miss still crept in, not least at the 17th which finally punched his early ticket home.
“It’s more frustrating than anything else,” he said. “This is a major championship and I love playing in these events, I love the atmosphere and enjoy the stress of playing a major.”
When asked if there were any similarities with the period of aborted comebacks in between back surgeries in 2015 and 2016, he said: “You can’t compare the two.
“Those were some of the lowest times of my life. This is not. This is just me not playing well, not scoring well and it adds up to high scores.”
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Woods said he has done enough travelling for a while after a holiday in Thailand ahead of the trip to Northern Ireland and will rest up for a few weeks before returning for the PGA Tour’s playoff season.
“I just want some time off, to get away from it,” he said.
“I just want to go home.”
A major season to celebrate in anyone else’s book, a season for reflection for Woods.