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  • It wasn't Tiger's back that gave him trouble Thursday—it was his golf game. Despite mild conditions, Tiger shot a four-over 75 that threatens to cut his FedEx Cup run short.
By Daniel Rapaport
August 08, 2019

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — Tiger Woods was concerned about playing three tournaments back-to-back-to-back. He hasn’t done so all season and only played in consecutive weeks once this year, way back in February. That made his August plan seem a bit…ambitious: Play four solid rounds at this week’s Northern Trust to gain ground in the FedEx Cup standings, then be in the top 30 of those standings after the BMW Championship to qualify for the Tour Championship, where he surely wants to defend his title from a year ago.

He didn’t know how his back would hold up for 12 rounds in 18 days, but he intended to find out. Now, he might not get that opportunity, because there’s a good chance he’ll only get to enjoy Liberty National’s sweeping views of New York City for one more round.

That’s what happens when you shoot a four-over 75 on a defenseless golf course that begged for scores in the 60s, as Woods did Thursday.

“I just didn’t play well,” a surprisingly upbeat Woods said after the round. “Just one of those things where I just didn’t hit any good shots and didn’t make any putts. Other than that, added up to a round that broke 80.”

He was one of very few players who struggled. A mean-spirited thunderstorm softened the greens overnight and the wind didn’t wake up in time for Woods’s 7:43 a.m. starting time.

Simply put, it wasn’t that complicated out there. Troy Merritt led with a 62. Dustin Johnson shot 63, Jon Rahm posted 64, Rory McIlroy managed 65. With soft greens and barely any wind, this track isn’t that complicated. After the morning wave, only Patrick Rodgers had shot a worse score than Woods.

At least it wasn’t the back.

Woods sent a tremor throughout the golf world when he cut his pro-am short on Wednesday to rest a stiff back. There were absolutely no signs of discomfort on a balmy Thursday morning, with the humidity of late summer in the Northeast certainly helping to lubricate Woods’ 43-and-a-half year old muscles. He had no trouble ripping through the ball and repeatedly outdrove his playing partners Scott Piercy and J.T. Poston, the latter of whom is half his age.

“The driver felt fine. I felt really good with that but I just didn’t feel sharp with anything else. My iron game, which is generally the strongest part of my game, was off.”

Off indeed. Particularly the short irons. After opening with two straight pars, Woods tugged a pitching wedge left of the 12th green and needed an up-and-down for bogey. On the par-4 13th, he double-crossed a 9-iron, pulling it badly when he played for a fade and made double bogey. Two holes later, he flared yet another wedge into a front bunker and dropped another shot.

The contact was shoddy, the starting lines were inconsistent and the distance control—normally a hallmark of Woods’ games—was nowhere to be found.

“I was trying to feel it, to find it, but I just could not get the feel of the bottom,” said Woods, who is in danger of misses his third cut in four events. “It was definitely off, and hence my distance control was off.”

Woods entered the week 28th in the FedEx Cup standings, and the top 70 advance to next week’s BMW at TPC Boston, so he is all but assured to qualify for that second playoff event. But he’ll likely need something in the mid 60s to stick around for the weekend here, where he has a complicated history. Woods finished T2 in both of the previous FedEx Cup playoff events here, in 2009 and 2013, but it was here at the Presidents Cup that he reached perhaps the nadir of his career. That was when he told reporters that there was “definitely” a chance he never plays a tournament again.

Thankfully, for him and the rest of the sporting world, that’s no longer a worry. He will indeed play again. Maybe just not this weekend.

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