AKRON, Ohio — Tiger Woods has never looked worse.
As he has done so often Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods doffed his cap as he walked up toward the 18th green to warm applause from fans who occupied every seat in the grandstand.
Only there was no trophy waiting for him. This sounded more like a sympathy cheer.
The world’s No. 1 player looked utterly beaten, and was.
“Shooting 18-over par is not fun,” Woods said. “I don’t see how it can be fun shooting 18 over.”
He missed one last birdie putt to close with a 77. That gave Woods the highest 72-hole score — 298 — of any PGA Tour event he ever played, even as an amateur. It was the first time he shot over par in all four rounds since the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill.
This from a guy who had never finished worse than fifth at Firestone in 11 previous events, who had not shot over par on the South Course since 2006, who last year made PGA Tour history by winning for the seventh time on the same course
The numbers associated with Woods always have been staggering, now more than ever.
His 298 total was 39 shots higher than the record score he shot 10 years ago at Firestone. He tied for 78th, the highest finish of his PGA Tour career. Only Henrik Stenson (20-over 300) kept Woods from finishing dead last.
He set a career low by making bogey or worse on 25 of the 72 holes.
No one expected him to dominate as he did before revelations of his sexual escapades in November.
No one could have imagined this.
“He’s just not the regular Tiger we’re used to seeing,” said Anthony Kim, who played his first tournament in three months after thumb surgery and beat Woods by two shots. “He’s obviously had a lot of stuff going on, and he’s dealing with that, and that’s obviously more important than golf.
“Because I think golf is an easy thing to do once your personal life is straightened out. And I’m sure it’s going to happen soon for him.”
Not even Woods knows. Perhaps more troubling for him — and the PGA Tour — is he doesn’t know how much longer he can play this year. With two tournaments remaining before the FedEx Cup playoffs get under way, Woods is not guaranteed of being in the top 125 to get into the opening event at The Barclays.
CBS Sports, which televises the most weekends on the tour, has not had Woods live Sunday since the Memorial two months ago.
Woods will slip further down the Ryder Cup standings, and the question is no longer whether he would play as a captain’s pick. The question is whether U.S. captain Corey Pavin should even pick him.
He looks like any other player out there. Just watching the shots he hits, someone could question what he’s doing on the PGA Tour.
On the par-3 seventh, Woods got the club stuck behind him and caught the ball so fat that he came up 25 yards short, barely getting into the bunker. Worse yet was the 14th.He came up just short into the collar of the rough, about 45 feet short, leaving him a straightforward chip. Woods knocked it 12 feet by the flag, just off the green, putted five feet by the hole and took double bogey.
Even in the best of times, Woods has hit bad shots. Everyone does.
But this was amateur stuff.
Pavin might be doing him a disservice to put him on the Ryder Cup team and expose him at an event where players have to be sharp in their thinking and the shots they play.
Woods began the week by saying he intended to qualify for the Ryder Cup team. Asked if he even wanted to play, Woods replied with a stoic look, “Not playing like this, definitely not.
“I wouldn’t help the team if I’m playing like this,” he said. “No one would help the team if they’re shooting 18-over par.”
Would he pick himself if he were captain?
Woods isn’t ruling himself out, saying there is a lot of time between now and the Ryder Cup on Oct. 1-3 in Wales. That starts Thursday with the PGA Championship. Does it end there, too? Because if Woods plays at Whistling Straits the way he did at Firestone, he won’t be around for the weekend and might not be eligible for a PGA Tour event — unless he plays Greensboro — until the Ryder Cup.
His mood has not been that dour despite the low scores. He worked hard on his swing on the practice range Sunday morning, constantly rehearsing and exaggerating some moves to get the club where he wanted it. And he smiled and chatted with Kim throughout the round.
Toward the end, however, Woods looked resigned. There was only so much he could take.
The double bogey at No. 14. Then came a tee shot on the par-3 15th so far right that it hit a spectator. The loudest cheer Woods got all day was signing his glove and giving it to the man, and then he tossed him the ball after making bogey.
On the 16th, Woods didn’t finish his swing as the ball sailed into the trees. He hit a tree on his next shot, which went 20 yards. From 261 yards out, he tries to slice a three-wood out of the forest, back toward the green and over the water. It was vintage Woods, the gallery stunned by the flight of the ball, cheering in anticipation as it neared the green.
It came up a few yards short. Another double bogey.
It was strange to see Woods playing the eighth hole, and realizing the entire back nine at Firestone was empty. He was in the second group off for the final round. As he lined up his putt on the 18th, a volunteer came over to her colleagues to hand out lunch vouchers.
By lunch, Woods was on his way to the airport for a quick flight to Wisconsin, where he planned to play Whistling Straits.
“I could probably play 18 and still watch the guys finish (the Bridgestone Invitational),” he said with a smile.
Woods felt as though he were making baby steps. His driving was the best it had been all year at Aronimink and St. Andrews, only for his putter to let him down. This week, nothing worked.
Woods said he was not surprised.
“It’s been a long year,” he said, looking and sounding like a player who has lost his direction.