MEDINAH, Ill. — Tiger Woods smiled through the pain Sunday at Medinah Country Club in the final round of the BMW Championship. No, his back wasn’t bothering him, but parts of his game were causing him some discomfort.
After a promising start of three birdies in his first seven holes, the reigning Masters champion got stuck in neutral, couldn’t overcome the rust in his short game and ended up with an even-par 72 on Medinah’s No. 3 course, the site of two of his 15 major titles—the 1999 and 2006 PGA Championship.
Woods finished at seven-under 281, good for T-37 but not good enough to allow him to advance to next week’s season finale, the Tour Championship, which he won a year ago to end a five-year victory drought. He ended his season 42nd in the FedEx Cup standings, not bad considering he played in just 12 official starts, one of which resulted in his withdrawal last week from the Northern Trust.
“It’s disappointing,” Woods, ranked No. 6 in the world, said about his season ending a week earlier than he would have preferred. “Last year culminated in a pretty special moment for me, and it would have been nice to go back there, but I’ll be watching the guys on TV.”
He traced his scoring struggles to one facet of his arsenal, his short game, which at one juncture he referred to as “pitiful.”
“Little bit frustrating,” he said, summing up his week. “I didn't have the short game I needed to make a run. I made too many bogeys around the greens, and I had it two under par early and giving myself at least an outside chance of getting to my number and thought if I shot six-under par today I think that might have moved on.”
Woods drove the ball beautifully the final three days, and hit 10 of 14 fairways in the final round. Finding just 10 greens didn’t help him make a run, either. He was two of eight for the week in sand saves. He wouldn’t blame it on rust. “I don't know if it's reps or not. I didn't have a feel for what I needed to do this week,” he said.
The par-4 16th hole proved to be a microcosm of his day. Woods blistered a drive of 319 yards into the right corner of the fairway on the 485-yard dogleg left hole, but his second shot was heavy and came up well short. He laughed at himself and could only smile broadly at caddie Joe LaCava as he handed him the offending club. Then he nearly chipped in from 68 feet, the ball curving into the right side of the cup and then horseshoeing around it and out.
Woods, 43, plans to take two months off and is not expected to compete again until the inaugural ZoZo Championship in Japan Oct. 24-27. After that comes his Hero World Challenge followed by his debut as captain of the U.S. Presidents Cup team in Melbourne, Australia. He said that fitness will be a priority, “keep going the way I’m going right now because I need to get a little bit stronger in certain body parts, activate different areas.”
His game certainly was fit enough earlier in the year. Winning his fifth green jacket and 15th major title at Augusta National was, of course, the highlight of his shortened season. He beamed talking about the monumental victory, his 81st in his PGA Tour career, one behind Sam Snead’s all-time record.
“[It was] very special to win my 15th major and get my fifth jacket,” he said. “Those are special moments and to be able to have an opportunity like that, and the rest of the tournaments I didn't really play as well as I wanted to, but at the end of the day, I'm the one with the green jacket.”
Indeed, he is. His 2018-'19 PGA Tour season might have ended early, but it also ended with quite the bragging rights.