Tiger looked lost in missing 13th cut

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The subject did not even come up, even though it hovered over the 3½ -minute media session like the gloomy Arizona weather that rained on the TPC Scottsdale course on Friday.

Tiger Woods shot his worst score as a professional.

And for just the second time, he failed to break 80.

That has always been a badge of honor with Woods, even though it went undiscussed following his missed cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

For all of those rounds of golf going back to his pro debut in Milwaukee in 1996, Woods had an 8 at the beginning of his score just once, and that was under dire and understandable circumstances.

His 81 at the 2002 Open Championship came at the height of his powers. He held the previous two major trophies, was 2 shots out of the lead heading into the third round at Muirfield, then got caught in a terrible break in the weather, with wind and rain howling off the sea. He was one of 10 players to shoot in the 80s that day.

TPC Scottsdale isn't Muirfield, and the Phoenix Open isn't The Open.

It rained Friday, but not enough to make scoring impossible. The desert course is set up for low numbers, and Woods had nothing but big ones. Over two days, he made a triple-bogey, three doubles and 10 bogeys. For half of his 36 holes, he had a score of 5 or higher.

As much as he has grinded over the years to avoid the dreaded 80s, he couldn't do it Friday. He matched a career-worst for nine holes on his first nine with 44, then added to the negative history by finishing with an 82, one shot worse than that day in a major championship but seemingly as far removed as Scotland.

The words chunk, skull, blade, fat and yes, yips, have never been used to this extent in association with Woods, and after he talked positively pre-tournament about the work he has accomplished under consultant Chris Como and how happy he is with the progress of his swing, you have to wonder if there is more to this than the physical issues involved in piecing together a game.

"It is mental to an extent because the physical pattern is different,'' Woods said in trying to explain his alarming short-game woes. "So obviously when the physical pattern is different, the trust is not quite there. I'm not bottoming out in the same spot, so to an extent, yes [it is mental]. But I need to physically get the club in a better spot.''

Woods said he hit "thousands upon thousands upon thousands'' of chip shots in the time after the Hero World Challenge last month to the start of this event. That would appear to be extensive exaggeration, and perhaps it had better be, because that kind of practice and this kind of result would be mystifying, given his talents.

"I've got quite a bit of concern,'' said Woods' longtime friend Notah Begay, who helped set him up with Como and works as an analyst for Golf Channel. "This is putting the world of golf back on its heels.

"He is going to have to ask himself some very hard and difficult questions over the next few days. He needs to figure out how to rebuild this.''

There are positives. Woods is driving the ball farther, having averaged more than 304 yards in the tournament. The loose shots off the tee could be expected, and he's still hitting good iron shots, at least from long range. Woods is getting the ball back up in the air again, and there are numerous good signs there.

But even at his best, Woods had days where he missed greens, and salvaged rounds, sometimes from remarkable positions. Most of those situations in two days in Scottsdale were not so severe. Some were straightforward up-and-downs that Woods could not execute.

Golfers of all levels have feared the pitch shot, especially off tight grass. The default move is to play safe: Use a straight club, like a 4-iron, and try to hit it like a putter. That takes an egregious miss out of play, but is difficult to hit it close because there are so many factors in play, such as the length of the grass between the ball and the hole. The skilled make the ball dance by hitting those wedge shots around the greens.

And yet Woods -- one of the game's greatest all-time scrambling artists, sometimes compared to the late Seve Ballesteros -- opted for the safe play every time, unable to hit the spinning shots that stop so quickly near the hole.

Woods missed 36 greens in two days and was a horrific 5-for-18 in converting up-and-downs.

"He's not struggling,'' Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said. "He's incapable of hitting those shots right now. He's incapable of doing the most pedestrian requirements at the highest level.''

In a way, it is remarkable that Woods has shot so few scores in the 80s. It doesn't take much to get going the wrong way and post a big number. Phil Mickelson has shot in the 80s on eight occasions, for example, with a high score of 85 at the 1998 Open Championship. It happens to the best.

"That's golf, we all have days like this,'' Woods said.

Except Woods doesn't. Or didn't.

Woods said he was going home to practice, and clearly there is work to be done, lots of it. Can the chipping problems be overcome in a matter of days, prior to the start of next week's Farmers Insurance Open? That would appear to be a long shot.

He has had a lot of time to work on his game in the past several weeks and showed little improvement. So a few days doesn't seem enough time.

Woods at least seems to acknowledge that tournament play is a necessity. He claims his game has looked good at home. Under the glare in Phoenix, not so much.

"Hitting golf balls is one thing and playing golf at home is another, but playing tournament golf is entirely another,'' he said. "I have to continue with the progress. I have been here before.''

He has, and he's always responded. How long it takes this time is among many unanswered questions.