Update: Woods announced his withdrawal from the PGA Championship Saturday night because of "pain and discomfort in his right foot."
TULSA — This version of Tiger Woods needs warmth like he needs air to breathe. It’s an absolute prerequisite if he’s to play good golf. You may prefer sweater weather over a scorcher, but Tiger’s happiest these days when he’s constantly wiping sweat from his forehead. Warmth is his friend. Humidity, that’s even better. It lubricates his body. Helps him forget about his fused back and the hardware holding his right leg together.
It’s an unfortunate reality given his lack of control over the situation. Woods can do everything right in his preparation for a tournament, he can feel great early in the week, but if the temperature begins with a 5 he is essentially powerless. It was this way before the accident but it’s especially true now. Add in gusty winds, a finicky major-championship layout, a quick turnaround from the previous round and you’re left with a recipe for … well, for what happened Saturday at the PGA Championship.
It’s the furthest thing from a surprise, then, that Woods played rather poorly on Saturday morning at Southern Hills. After playing the first five holes in one over—very respectable given the conditions—Woods flushed a long-iron into the par-3 sixth that ran into a wall of wind and dove into a stream. He would play his next eight holes in nine over par. That included five straight bogeys, the first time he’s done that in a major as a professional. He needed to hoop a 36-footer for birdie on 15 and a five-footer for par at 18 to break 80.
“I just didn't play well,” Woods said after a nine-over 79, one shot worse than the back-to-back 78s he shot over the weekend at Augusta and 10 shots worse than his gritty second-round 69 here to squeak by the cut. In directly correlated news, it was nearly 90 degrees in Tulsa on Friday.
“I didn't hit the ball very well, and got off to not the start I needed to get off to. I thought I hit a good tee shot down 2 and ended up in the water, and just never really got any kind of momentum on my side.”
Granted, Woods was far from the only one who struggled on a course playing much longer and affected by a different Northerly wind. Jon Rahm shot five over. Billy Horschel was seven. Sepp Straka, 29 years old, healthy and a winner earlier this year, matched Woods’ 79.
Still, watching Woods trudge through this round was not the most enjoyable way to spend a Saturday. He was careful with where he stepped and, when he did, it was in slow motion. He winced multiple times and tried, futilely, to breathe some life into his leg. His playing partner noticed.
“He’s such a phenomenal player, and you feel so sorry for him having to go through this,” said Shaun Norris, who shot four-over 74 alongside Woods. “Then again, you also see the type of person he is, that he grinds through everything and he pushes himself through the pain. It’s not easy to see a guy like him have to go through that and struggle like that, but he’s swinging it nicely and I think he’ll be back once he gets back to normal health and sorts out his problems.
“The determination that the guy has is phenomenal. You could see he was battling just to take the ball out of the hole from time to time or even bend down just to put the ball on a tee. But pushing through it and getting all the focus at the right times in the shots and everything is phenomenal.”
Woods pushed through on Friday but knew that the flip side of barely making the weekend was a battle against his body on Saturday morning. And yet he maintained that his mind hadn’t deviated from the pre-tournament goal of a victory.
“There's a reason why you fight hard and you're able to give yourself a chance on the weekend,” he said Friday. “You just never know when you might get hot.”
He never got hot because it never got hot, and he surely knows that even a top-25 finish is not in the cards this week. He was tied for last place among cut-makers when the leaders teed off on Saturday, meaning he’ll have one of the earliest tee times on Sunday morning, and similarly cool temperatures are expected. It’s why Woods stopped short of committing to playing in Sunday’s final round. He’ll go back to his hotel, see how the leg recovers and make a decision.
As he headed toward the parking lot on Saturday, Norris’ caddie asked for a picture. Woods obliged. His walking scorer asked for an autograph. He obliged. And then he tip-toed up the steps to head back to his courtesy car. It’s warm in there.