For Tiger Woods, the new reality was reflected in the resigned look on his face and the words he spoke. There was no cold-lipped fury or self-recrimination after missing the halfway cut at the 101st US PGA Championship.
‘I just wasn’t moving the way I needed to this week,’ he said. ‘There’s going to be days and weeks where it’s just not going to work, and this was one of them.’
Here at Bethpage was a performance that simply underlined the miraculous nature of his Masters victory last month and the enormous physical and emotional toll paid to win the green jacket.
At the time, it looked as if the date change to May for the PGA was propitious, allowing him to ride the momentum from Augusta. In truth, he still hasn’t recovered.
That much was obvious in Friday’s evening shadows as he stood over a simple sand-wedge shot from 112 yards at the 18th, needing a birdie to make the halfway cut. Lined 10 deep and yearning for him to get down in two shots were tens of thousands of New York disciples. Yet Tiger couldn’t complete his swing, the ball barely making the putting surface, much less zeroing in on the flagstick.
‘He never said to me he was hurting, but he came out of the shot, as he did with a nine-iron at the 14th, and that’s not like him at all,’ said his caddie, Joey LaCava.
Even in his prime, Woods would have struggled to keep up with the relentless brilliance of his playing partner, Brooks Koepka. The new reality saw him bested by an astounding 17 strokes.
After all the joy and exhilaration of his Augusta triumph, this was a stark comedown, illustrating just how difficult it will be to climb the final furlongs to the summit and Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 majors.
What a mood-changer it proved to be. Before the event, outspoken Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee had predicted that Tiger would claim his 16th major. On Friday night, he had altered his opinion so drastically as to proclaim ‘no-one of sound mind’ would think Tiger could get to a total of 18.
Physically stiff and mentally wiped out, Woods was unable to play in the month leading up to this event, and was clearly hopelessly ill-prepared for the daunting challenge of Bethpage.
In the three days before the start, he was able to complete just nine holes, and it told in the second round in particular, where he hit only three out of 14 fairways. Underpowered, he was hitting four- irons where Koepka was hitting nine-irons. Lag putting is another thing that suffers through lack of competition, and Woods was way off the pace, needing 61 putts in total over two rounds.
Acknowledging the rust in his game, Woods said: ‘I didn’t do all the little things I needed to do to post good scores and put myself in position to shoot good scores. The PGA was a quick turnaround and unfortunately I didn’t play well.’
There are now another four weeks before the US Open at Pebble Beach, where Woods delivered the finest major championship performance of all in 2000, when he won by 15 shots. It would be a great pity if he’s not in any physical shape to do himself justice in that one.
‘There’s no reason why I can’t get up to speed again and crank it back up,’ insisted Tiger. ‘I’ve got to start feeling a little bit better first before that happens. We’ll do that first and then start cranking it up.’
The first indication if he’s able to do that will come in a fortnight. Woods has to play in Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial tournament before the next major, and particularly after lasting only two rounds at Bethpage. If his name is not on the entry list for that event, his absence will tell its own tale.
For now, then, we’re back in fingers-crossed mode, hoping the new reality is what he says it is, that some weeks he simply doesn’t have it due to his fused back, rather than anything more sinister.
Sir Nick Faldo, who forecast Woods’s struggles perfectly in this newspaper last Sunday, is doubtful he has more majors in him outside Augusta. ‘I hope for his sake that when the Masters comes around each April, he’s feeling healthy for the next five years,’ he told Sportsmail. ‘Augusta’s perfect for him. As for the other venues coming up, I’m not so sure. He can still hole the vital putts, and I don’t know how you do that at 43. But there are other causes for concern.’
Before he left the stage, Woods was asked about not being able to follow up his Masters miracle.
‘I’m frustrated I wasn’t able to play well for these incredible fans, but outside that, there’s not that much,’ he said. ‘You know, I can still go home this weekend, and I can still call myself the Masters champion. That’s a tremendous accomplishment.’Daily Mail