Tiger Woods was back. Just not for very long.
Woods missed a 36-hole cut for only the 10th time on the PGA Tour with a game that showed signs of rust from being out of competition for more than three months. Right when he was poised to make a run, Woods made four straight bogeys on the back nine at Congressional to end any hopes of playing the weekend at the Quicken Loans National.
He shot a 4-over 75 on Friday and missed the cut by four shots.
It was the first time he missed the cut and saw it as a positive, starting with the fact he could play. He had back surgery March 31 and had hoped to return for the British Open next month. Instead, he played the Quicken Loans National because he felt strong enough, and because it benefits his foundation.
“I came back four weeks earlier than we thought I could,” Woods said. “I had no setbacks. I got my feel for playing tournament golf. I made a ton of simple, little mistakes – misjudging things and missing the ball on the wrong sides and just didn’t get up-and-down on little, simple shots. Those are the little things I can correct.”
Marc Leishman of Australia turned potential bogey into unlikely birdie when he holed out from 127 yards on the par-5 ninth hole on his way to a 5-under 66 and a four-way share of the lead going into the weekend.
Oliver Goss, another Aussie who is making his second pro start, had a bogey-free 66 and joined Leishman at 6-under 136 along with Ricky Barnes (69) and Patrick Reed (68), who already has won twice this year.
Woods was 13 shots behind at 7-over 148.
It wasn’t the largest 36-hole gap from the leaders in the previous nine times he missed the cut on the PGA Tour. It just looked that way.
Woods took two shots to get out of a plugged lie in a bunker on the fifth hole and made double bogey. He three-putted for par on the next hole and never looked more sloppy than on the short par-4 eighth. He was in perfect position after hitting a big drive, 61 yards from the hole at the right angle. His pitch was too strong and left of the flag, leaving him a downhill chip from the collar. He hit that 7 feet by and missed the par putt.
Even so, the damage came after consecutive bogeys around the turn. His tee shot went into a hazard on No. 11, forcing him to punch out. He hit a wild hook off the tee on the 12th, and his second shot was headed for a bunker until it was suspended in the grass on the lip of the sand. He hit a poor chip from below the green on the 13th. And from the 14th fairway, he missed the green and hit another poor chip.
Four bogeys, no time to recover.
And he didn’t sound terribly worried. Woods took encouragement from not feeling any pain in his back, and from swinging as hard as he wanted with his driver. That’s what concerned him about playing this week. Turns out it was the two shortest clubs in his bag – the wedge and putter – that did him in.
It was surprising to see Woods go straight from the range to the tee in both rounds. Most players give themselves a few extra minutes in the chipping area.
“The short game was off,” Woods said. “I’ve been practicing on Bermuda grass, and I grew the grass up at my house and it was Bermuda. But come out here and play rye, it’s totally different. And it showed. I was off. I probably shout have spent more time chipping over on the chipping green than I did. But that’s the way it goes.”
If it was lack of competition that hurt Woods, he faces a minor dilemma. He is not playing next week at The Greenbrier Classic – Woods said he is taking his two children on a vacation – and it might not be prudent to cram in a bunch of tournaments so soon after back surgery to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back.
His next tournament would appear to be the British Open at Hoylake, where he won in firm, dry conditions in 2006, when he hit driver only one time all week.
He didn’t sound worried.
“I need to get back into competitive feel and just to feel it – to hit shots and shake some stuff off and see how things work,” he said. “One thing I was worried about was hitting driver at a competitive speed, and it was fantastic. I let it go and it was no problem at all. But I made so many little mistakes, which was something that I can rectify and get that fixed for the British.”
His last act as tournament host is to present the trophy, and that could be anyone.
Ten players were separated by only two shots going into the weekend, and there was only a nine-shot differential from first to last place. Former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose had 65 to get within three shots of the lead.
Updated June 27, 2014