Updated Apr 5, 2012 11:16 PM ET
Win at Bay Hill like it was 2000, have the world thinking a fifth green jacket’s yours for the taking, then show up at the Masters and hit it like it’s the bad old days of 2010?
If we’re to accept that the majestic ball-striking of two weeks ago represented a watershed in the Sean Foley era — or, a return to the best of the Butch Harmon era — then what are we to make of what happened in Thursday’s first round of the Masters?
Snap hook after snap hook off the tee, scrambling pars, two penalty drops, miscues on the par fives and a bogey-bogey finish.
The only logical conclusion is that it’s all between his ears.
That the great Tiger Woods isn’t a machine, but — like the rest of us — not as strong as he’d like to be.
And maybe that he — like us — is still looking for the champion he used to be, wondering if he’ll ever find him again.
But if the play was puzzling, then what to make of Woods’ explanation of his smoke-and-mirrors even-par 72?
He wants to put Hank Haney and his best-selling tell-all behind him.
But Woods not only brought “The Big Miss” — the title of Haney’s book — to the fore with his wild driving, but he kept Haney front-and-center by blaming his estranged coach for the bad ball-striking that left him five shots off Lee Westwood’s lead.
“I hit some of the worst golf swings I’ve ever hit today,” he said. “Same old motor patterns.”
The old Hank backswing, I asked him?
“Yeah, the Hank backswing with the new downswing,” he said.
Not a good mix?
But it’s been 18 months since he started working with Foley, and two years — to the week — since he left Haney twisting in the wind, ’til the coach finally resigned (though he’d really already been fired).
It’s true that Woods regressed as a driver of the ball under Haney, but two years later and it’s still really all Hank’s fault?
“Some of my old stuff from a few years ago,” he said. “I’ve had to try and kind of work through it, and every now and again it pops up, and today it popped up a little bit.”
It just pops up? He has no control over it at all?
He certainly didn’t on the first tee.
Paul Casey, Brandt Snedeker and Ben Crane walked out onto the balcony of one of the Augusta National cottages to get a good look at Woods’ opening drive, thinking — like the swollen galleries around the tee — they were about to see some history.
Their problem was they looked down the fairway.
There were audible groans when Woods hit a snipe hook that wouldn’t have gone beyond the ceremonial drives hit by the honorary starters Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, who opened the 76th Masters a couple of hours before.
It was a wounded duck, low and left and pinballing around in the trees. A hole that can sometimes be reached with a pitching wedge required a fairway wood layup.
But Woods escaped with par. Not that it settled him down as he was at it again on the second, sniping one into a creek, leaving him with a penalty drop behind a tree and a long, long way to the green.
He again saved par on the par-five, but he’s got to know there’s no winning a major with this kind of hacking.
“On this golf course, you are not in the right place from the tee, you have nothing to do here,” said Woods’ playing partner, Miguel Angel Jimenez, who was up for the challenge and beat Woods’ score by three.
If there was a silver lining for Woods, it was that he got away with a round that could’ve been much worse; so bad he’d be virtually out of the running.
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“I could have probably got one, maybe two more out of that, but that was about it,” he said. “Today I squeezed a lot out of that round. Didn’t hit it very good at all.”
Then came one of those moments Haney details in his book, when Woods paints an absurdly rosy picture he doesn’t really believe.
“My commitment to each and every shot — what I was doing, my alignment, my setup, everything — was something that I’m excited about and I can take some positives going into tomorrow,” he said.
Positives that he did all he could’ve done, yet still hit the Big Miss?
Not surprisingly, Woods headed straight to the range after his media interview and stayed there for hours, pounding balls under Foley’s watchful eye.
But, honestly, is that the answer?
He had two weeks to prepare for that opening drive, yet fluffed his line.
Maybe the Big Miss is actually more of a mental problem.
Whatever, he needs to figure it out.
Westwood’s playing like a man on a mission; a man who’s tired of being left out of the conversation when discussions turn to the best golfer in the world.
And Woods’ two pre-tournament rivals, Rory McIlroy and Phil Mickelson, both came back from what could’ve been disastrous starts to also remain in the reckoning.
Time, in every sense, is not on his side.