John McGrath

John McGrath: Time turns Tiger into a tabby cat

Goodbye, Tiger.

I assume you’re in Florida by now, about as far as a guy can be from Chambers Bay without leaving leaving the continental U.S.

“I’m going home,” you said Friday behind the media center, where you provided concise answers to seven questions before a handler whisked you away.

It had been anticipated that the most significant sports event in the history of Pierce County would involve a prominent Tiger Woods story line. Turns out you were part of an odd sideshow.

“Hang in there, Tiger!” the fans kept on yelling Friday, realizing that any golfer who takes a 10-over par score into the second round of a U.S. Open is not going to be around for the third round of a U.S. Open.

“Hang in there!” Those words must sting somebody who once seemed destined to retire as the greatest golfer who ever lived, but, hey, it’s the thought that counts.

We knew about the struggle to turn the clock back on your game, Tiger, but to see you struggle at Chambers Bay — in what amounts to our backyard — was both hard to watch and difficult not to watch. It was like a famous singer forgetting the words to the national anthem, or a nightclub comedian bombing to the sound of silence.

You sent your second shot on hole No. 1 into the right rough Thursday, and you never recovered. Friday brought a slight improvement or, more accurately, it wasn’t as brutal.

The prevailing video clip from the second round suggested Chambers Bay kept a kind of karmic grudge against you: Looking for a ball buried in the rough, you landed on your rear end while walking up a hill backward.

The state of your career, Tiger, right there.

“I didn’t make any putts for two days,” you told us. “I hit some spots where I could hit some putts; I made nothing.

“On a golf course like this you get exposed and you have to be precise and dialed in,” you also told us. “Obviously, I need to get a little better for the British Open and I’ll keep working at it.”

A little better, Tiger? You finished the first round at 10-over par 80, your worst career score to par in a major championship. You failed to make the cut for the fifth time in 68 majors, and for the second time since August.

Between your first full season of 1997 and 2013, you finished first or second in PGA Tour earnings 13 times. In 2014, you finished 201st in PGA Tour earnings.

Your recent 85 at the Memorial was your highest score for a round as a pro. Your 302 was your highest score over four rounds.

And then you came to Chambers Bay, along with 155 other players. You tied for 154th place.

You turn 40 in December, Tiger, which reminds of a remark about Muhammad Ali after he was coaxed out of retirement to fight Larry Holmes. “Ali is 38 years old,” Holmes said. “His mind is making a date his body can’t keep.”

Ali did not need to take a beating at the hands of Holmes to validate his storied career. Same with you, Tiger. You do not need to prove your resilience after sustaining injuries to your left knee, left Achilles tendon, left elbow and back.

Here’s what was most disturbing about your U.S. Open performance, Tiger: The physical issues have turned golf into a chore.

The old Tiger Woods — which is to say, the young and healthy Tiger Woods — used to savor the challenge posed by a course as demanding as Chambers Bay. The old Tiger Woods used to live for the kind of pressure associated with a USGA championship.

Do you recall the first time you traveled to the Pacific Northwest for a high-profile tournament, Tiger? Late in the 36-hole match play finale of the 1996 U.S. Amateur at the Portland area’s Pumpkin Ridge, you were two holes down to Steve Scott with three to play.

You rallied to force a sudden-death playoff, clinching the title on the 38th hole. You turned pro a few days later. A star was born.

During the 19 years between Pumpkin Ridge and Chambers Bay, the life and times of an American sports legend were distinguished by soaring triumphs that preceded humiliating setbacks.

A less accomplished athlete would recognize there’s no happy ending to this story, but you are determined to keep on keeping on.

“My schedule is set for the summer,” you said Friday. “I’m playing every other week.”

Your mind is making dates your body can’t keep, Tiger. In the meantime, hang in there.

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