ST. ANDREWS, Scotland — Tiger Woods already looked miserable when the sky briefly darkened and a cold mist forced him to pull out his rain suit on the 10th hole at St. Andrews.
The weather was something Woods could handle. What seemed to perplex him on this day were the basics of a game he once took for granted.
Woods put a shot into water near the first green on the Old Course that few others in the field even gave a second thought. He chunked wedges, and made a string of bad club choices that were mind boggling for a player once thought to be on his way to being the greatest ever.
On a front nine just begging to be attacked — where Sweden’s David Lingmerth shot a 29 just a few groups in front of him — and on a course where he twice romped to wins, Woods carded a 40 on his way to a fat 4-over 76 that effectively put him out of the British Open almost before it began.
By the time he reached for his rain suit, Woods was already seven shots behind his playing partners and so far out of the lead that any thoughts of competing on Sunday had to be dismissed as sheer fantasy.
Not that Woods seemed to care all that much. The indifference with which he played bordered on shocking, with the fire that once burned fiercely inside of him seemingly extinguished, at least for now.
Woods would smile and laugh about it later, as if the whole thing was some kind of inside joke. If it is, he would be better served letting the fans who still gamely rooted him on in Thursday’s first round to know they should stop bothering.
Because, for all of Woods’ protestations, it appears he has already done that himself.
Earlier in the week, Woods had insisted he is still young, still loves to play and compete and still gets up for the biggest events. But if this day and the dismal U.S. Open he had last month are any indication, he may be just as delusional as the fans who still call out his name.
Jason Day could only help but notice as he played alongside the golfer he grew up idolizing.
“The good thing about it is I saw him struggle a little bit before and he came back and got to No. 1, as well, so I know that he can get back out of this,” Day said. “It’s just depending on how much he wants it.”
Just how much Woods does want it is at the center of any discussion of his play. At the age of 39, helping raise two young children and with no worries about his finances, it might be too much to expect him to apply the same kind of energy to his latest swing change as he did the others before it.
If that’s the case, he might be better served simply staying at home for the PGA Championship next month. With seemingly no clue what is going on in his game, there’s no reason to further diminish his legacy — not to mention embarrass himself — by missing yet another cut in a major.
Who would have thought there would be a time we started feeling sorry for Tiger Woods?
“It’s hard to watch the greatest player of this generation be a middle-of-the-pack hack,” analyst and former player Paul Azinger said during the ESPN broadcast of the first round.
Woods talked about being angry at his play, though he didn’t look at it when chatting with Day while waiting to hit on the 15th tee. He said he was frustrated, though that’s an old story in a winless streak that will reach two years next month.
Actually, he didn’t say anything he hasn’t said in recent times, including his belief that he was actually in contention at the Masters when he started the final round 10 shots back and finished 13 behind.
Delusional? You decide.
Woods, of course, is an easy target for analysts and anyone else. He can never be as great as he once was, just as he can never become the warm and friendly kind of player Arnold Palmer was.
He’s caused a lot of his own troubles, whether by his actions off the course or the disdain he treated both fans and media with for years. He also can’t stop changing swings, even if his original swing was good enough to make him the best player on the planet the minute he turned pro.
It was inevitable that a new group of players would one day take over the game, and they have. Jordan Spieth may not make fans jump up and scream his name, but he shoots low scores almost every time he goes out and after an opening 67 he has a chance to win a third straight major and perhaps the Grand Slam that no player has ever won.
Meanwhile, the forecast for Friday includes heavy rain and gusts up to 50 mph, the kind of bad weather that Woods believes may help get him back into contention.
Not a chance of that happening. The only thing it will do is make him more miserable than ever.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlbergap.org