TULSA — Agony, always a threat to turn up and howl as Tiger Woods returns from the car crash and surgery maze of early 2021, played its most prominent role to date on a chilly Saturday at Southern Hills. Soon, the whole exercise of playing golf looked very much like agony, and by the early evening, Woods had pulled out of the event, his first withdrawal from a major tournament as a professional.
With a triple bogey on the menacing par-3 No. 6 epitomizing the woe, Woods ended up having his 79th round in the PGA Championship become his 79th-best, with a score of 79 after he fended off an 80 with a gutty five-foot par putt on No. 18.
In the gruel of it all, on a course with more than its share of undulations, simple acts such as bending over, exiting bunkers or just plain walking looked like an agonizing minuet of winces and limps, even more so than last month at the Masters, where he returned from his hiatus after his car crash of February 2021 and shot a 78 on a Saturday similar in weather to this Saturday.
At the Masters, he shot 71-74-78-78.
Here, he shot 74-69-79.
The scorecard of Saturday groaned right along with him and with his thousands of supportive witnesses, with bogeys on Nos. 2, 7, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13, and some sort of profound effort to play the last five holes in 1 under par. It left him 12 over par for the tournament after the achievement of making the cut for the second straight major on one rebuilt lower right leg. It came just hours after the relatively calm warmth of Friday late afternoon, when players plucked the course for gaudy scores that included Bubba Watson’s 63, and Woods shot a 1-under 69 that soared given the circumstances, leaving him looking at least partway to exhilarated.
In the cold winds of Saturday, he looked troubled enough to stir the rational question about whether he could play Sunday, even before he announced he couldn’t.
“Well, I’m sore,” he told a pool reporter during brief remarks. “I know that is for a fact. We’ll do some work and see how it goes.” Hours later, he had bowed out, the first time he had done so since his days as an amateur, when a wrist injury caused him to exit during the second round of the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills on Long Island.
Only his birdie at No. 15 with a 36-footer on Saturday lent thrills to the thick galleries at Southern Hills on a morning and midday otherwise hard to watch, especially from close by. “You know, he’s such a phenomenal player,” said playing partner Shaun Norris, the South African ranked 68th in the world, who shot a 74. “You feel so sorry for him having to go through this. But then again, you also see the type of person that he is, that he grinds through everything and pushes himself, even all the pain and that. It’s not easy to see a guy like him have to go through that and struggle like that. He’s swinging it nicely, and I think he’ll be back once he gets back to normal health and sorts out all the problems.”
Norris said: “He’s always been an unbelievable putter, but there were a few times he hit some irons and I thought: ‘He’s there. It’s there. I mean, it’s definitely there.’ I think it’s just the fatigue and the pain at the end of the round that catches up to him at the moment.”
Woods has spoken often this spring of the behind-scenes drudgery of getting him ready to emerge onto the golf course and play 18 holes. He referred to himself Friday as “Humpty Dumpty,” his “team” rebuilding him each night. He has stressed the pain of it all will limit him to only a handful of large events, mostly majors.
Yet he balked at the idea that his 79 owed that much to the quick turnaround from finishing Friday evening to playing Saturday morning.
“Well, it’s not bad,” he said of that factor. “I just didn’t play well. 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.”
Then: “I couldn’t get off the bogey train there. ... As I said, I just didn’t — I didn’t do anything right. I didn’t hit many good shots. Consequently, I ended up with a pretty high score.”